Skeletons in the American Attic: Curiosity, Science, and the Appropriation of the American Indian Past
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CitationKertesz, Judy. 2012. Skeletons in the American Attic: Curiosity, Science, and the Appropriation of the American Indian Past. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractThis dissertation excavates the political economy and cultural politics of the "Vanishing Indian." While much of the scholarship situates this ubiquitous American trope as a rhetorical representation, I consider the ways in which the "Vanishing Indian" was necessarily rooted in the emerging capitalist and cultural economy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By combining cultural history, Native studies, material culture, and public history, my project addresses a predicament peculiar to settler societies. Specifically, I address the dilemma faced by an immigrant people who attempted to make the transition from colonial to national without being indigenous. My investigation into the complex historical processes of a symbolic, material, and oftentimes-ambivalent reconfiguration of self seeks to broaden our understanding of a national identity not only rooted, but also deeply invested, in settler-colonialism. The ancient mummified remains of an early Woodland aboriginal woman disinterred in Kentucky in 1811, are the axis around which this dissertation revolves. The history of her disinterment links American national identity formation with capitalist imperatives for natural resource extraction, the exploitation of slave labor, settler expansion, and the development of another form of "Indian Removal" – practiced below ground, as it were. The plunder of ancient ruins, disinterment of Indian graves, and the correlated development of early American archaeology became part of a larger national project. While Native remains were not in and of themselves economic resources, increasingly, speculators in science and antiquities came to regard them as both natural and national resources. Their disinterment was certainly as much a byproduct of scientific speculation as of speculation in lands "opened up" by western expansion. The appropriation of Native remains became a locus of power through which Americans sought to add the length and breadth of an historic past to the promise of a national future. Ultimately, I seek to interrogate one of the many aims of colonization through settlement—the appropriation of indigenous status—and situate a history of science, curiosity, and the appropriation of American Indian land and bodies at the center of this development.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10304418
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