Cristina Stanciu (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)

Feb 4, 2020
16:15-17:45, Fakultätssaal (Philosophicum)

This talk turns to print culture, zooming in on a key archive: the records of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first federally-funded off-reservation boarding school started in 1879 in Carlisle, PA. I argue that print culture—although part and parcel of the settler colonial project—enabled Native students to think, dream, and act toward a present and future beyond the confines of their (forced) industrial education. Examining surviving student writings, letters, and publications at Carlisle Indian Industrial School and several other federal boarding schools, I argue that Indigenous students’ work in print and epistolary form offers a glimpse into a tumultuous period of forced assimilation and Americanization, where student involvement in writing and reading practices mitigated some of the damage that industrial training did to Native education. Competing visions for Native education and print culture shaped this key period in the American Indian intellectual tradition, when emerging writers, editors, lawyers, and politicians started a print debate over American citizenship in the publications of Carlisle Indian School. Revealing editorial intervention and control of the students’ narratives in pamphlets, letters, student files, and the Carlisle magazines, I read student writing as complicit with the institution’s ideology, popularized by the school’s founder, R.H. Pratt, and yet critical of the very demands that the institution made of its students. Education for Americanization aimed to erase tribal identity and instill patriotism in students; yet, Native students integrated indigeneity into their writing and expressive culture at Carlisle in subtle ways. Although the authorship of the students’ writings is often difficult to ascertain, given the controlled environment in which they lived and wrote, as well as the constraints of colonial archives in collecting, preserving, and curating materials produced by Native students, this archive is worth studying for its contributions to what Osage critic Robert Warrior calls the American Indian Intellectual tradition. Following Warrior, in this chapter I read what he calls “Native educational texts”—a category where I also include the writings of students—a “microcosm of Native literary history,” a necessary point of departure not only for understanding how students negotiated Americanization in print, but also for our critical conceptualization of Native American written tradition as part of a continuum. Ultimately, I argue, the beginnings of the boarding school experiment and the removal of Native children to these institutions starting in 1879 coincided with the beginning of modern American Indian intellectual history, as well as the emergence of the first generation of intertribal activists and scholars.

Cristina Stanciu is Associate Professor in the Departement of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA and Fulbright Scholar 2019-20. Her research interests include Ethnic and immigrant American literatures, American Indian studies, visual culture (esp. silent film), and critical theory.


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