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Rethinking the Colonial Indian Wars

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) has awarded the 2011 Louis Pelzer Memorial Award, given for the best essay on any topic in American history by a graduate student, to Christine M. DeLucia (American Studies). The essay will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of American History.

Christine’s prize-winning essay, “The Memory Frontier: Uncommon Pursuits of Past and Place in the Northeast after King Philip’s War (1675–78),” revisits a conflict that took place in colonial America, destroying New England frontier settlements and decimating Native American communities. Her essay examines how differently Eastern Algonquians and Euro-Americans have remembered, marked, and mapped the conflict—or struggled to forget it. While standard histories routinely erase Native peoples from New England at that point in history, calling the war the “Indians’ last stand,” tribal communities have used this same conflict to “make visible alternative geographies of persistence and recovery,” she says. Christine challenges Yankee narratives about the war and contends that the creation and preservation of what she calls “place-sense” can be used to marginalize, but also to promote “resistance, regeneration, and even surprising cross-cultural reconciliation.”

Above, left: Christine DeLucia. Above, right: Historic signpost at Northfield, Massachusetts, marking the site of a clash during King Philip’s War. Below: Carter House, St. David’s Island, Bermuda, said to be home to a community of descendents of enslaved Native Americans, captured in King Philip’s War.

“How do we know what we know about the violent colonial past of the Northeast?” she asks. Her answer: “By identifying some of the region’s most influential memorykeepers, the sources from which they derive their knowledge, and the spaces where they perform their work.” Using those materials, she has teased out the reasons “indigenous communities and their neighbors have maintained, severed, or re-shaped their relationships with a troubling past and its grounds.”

To identify some overlooked complexities of the war itself and its aftermath, Christine studied archival records of towns, reservations, and even families to evaluate “local senses of belonging and collective purpose.” Much of the material was available at Yale, especially in the Ezra Stiles manuscripts and New England colonial histories at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, but she also located important materials in several dozen local and state historical collections and museums across New England, Quebec, and Bermuda. Some of her research was done at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island, and at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Museum & Research Center in Ledyard, Connecticut. Her essay focused on three significant sites: one in Rhode Island, one on the New Hampshire/Maine border, and the third in Bermuda, where there is a community believed to be descended from Native American prisoners of war.

Christine also studied records of oral tradition, performance, material culture, archaeology, and the physical environment where events took place, which enabled her to demonstrate that “vernacular transmission of historical consciousness has long been a thoroughly multidimensional endeavor for Natives and settlers alike.”

Christine won a Council on Library and Information Resource/Mellon Fellowship last year for this research. Additional funding came from the Gilder Lehrman Center and the MacMillan Center. The essay is based on her dissertation, advised by John Mack Faragher. She has also worked closely with Yale’s two Native American historians, professors Ned Blackhawk and Alyssa Mt. Pleasant.

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