Closer Readings Commentary

Participate in “Native Americans of New England: A Historical Overview”

As every teacher knows, history is fraught with clichés. One is that history is always written by the victors. That may have been true for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, recent developments in the historical profession have turned this cliché upside down, and nowhere is this more the case than in Native American Studies.

In July 2013, Neal Salisbury from Smith College and I had the pleasure of co-directing a Summer Institute for K-12 Teachers funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, organized with Five College, Inc. We introduced our twenty-five Summer Scholars to the latest and best scholarship on the history of Native American peoples in New England, covering more than four centuries in three intensive weeks. The group included K-12 teachers as well as librarians and information technology specialists. They came from across the United States and as far away as American Samoa. Some were indigenous or had extensive training in Native American studies. Others brought only their interest and a desire to learn. 

Feedback from the Summer Scholars was so positive that we applied for a second grant from the NEH, with success. Native Americans of New England: A Historical Overview will be offered July 6–24, 2015, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, two hours west of Boston. Here is an overview of our last institute with links to some of the great content created there as well as a link to apply for 2015. We hope it whets your curiosity about what is to come next year!

Each day our institute is packed with activities, with plenty of reading to keep everyone up late at night. In 2013, in most cases, the assigned texts were written by our stellar guest faculty, either recently published or still in manuscript form. For example:

  • Lisa Brooks, an Abenaki scholar from Amherst College, showed how a close reading of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, in print since 1682, could yield new information about King Philip’s War (1675–1676), women leaders such as Weetamoo, and how Native Americans related to the land;
  • Linford Fisher from Brown University led a discussion of how some Native Americans in southern New England embraced Christianity during what he calls the “Indian Great Awakening” without abandoning their Indigenous identity.

The excitement of these presentations is captured on our blog, Dispatches from the Institute.

Summer Scholars also enjoyed meeting some of the talking heads they had seen in documentaries, such as Jean O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe), Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, or Linda Coombs (Aquinnah Wampanoag), who worked for many years at Plimoth Plantation and now works for the Aquinnah Cultural Center. One participant said that his students were quite impressed when he was able to show a certain documentary and give them the inside scoop on debates that arose during its production!

We also took field trips because, well, who doesn’t enjoy field trips?!?

  • We visited the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, a local history museum in Deerfield, MA, to see how this community remembered the 1704 “French and Indian” raid;
  • We went to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Connecticut, exploring the interactive exhibits and the research library, which included a specialized collection of children’s literature by and about Native Americans;
  • We spent an afternoon at the Mohegan Community and Government Center in Uncasville, Connecticut, where Chief Lynn Malerba, Medicine Woman Melissa Tantaquidgeon, and community members from the Council of Elders asked the Summer Scholars about their curricular projects and the Summer Scholars, in turn, asked questions about Mohegan life, past and present. “Field trips add an extra dynamic to the experience of learning,” reads one of the feedback comments. “I plan to participate more in planning field trips for my students.”

In truth, the field trips, diverse guest faculty, primary source workshops, and other activities had a clear pedagogical goal. These experiences introduced the Summer Scholars to current scholarship from a variety of perspectives with one overarching theme: that New England Native American history is a living history despite the ongoing effects of colonization.

While Neal and I put a lot of thought into delivering content, we wanted each Summer Scholar to go home with something they could use in their own classrooms. Teacher-Facilitator Peter Gunn, a history teacher at Williston Northampton School with training Native American history, worked with the Summer Scholars on developing lesson plans that were posted to our website.

Links are available in the right-hand sidebar. We especially recommend three lessons: "Remembering King Philip’s War," "Trick or Treaty:  Treaty Negotiations in 18th and 19th -century America." and "Its Complicated."

Despite the rigorous, exhausting schedule, we all had a lot of fun.

Our forthcoming 2015 institute doesn’t have exactly the same program, but we expect it will be just as rigorous, rewarding, and fun! The biggest change is that co-director Neal Salisbury has decided to take a less strenuous role. He will meet with the Summer Scholars once a week for informal discussion, and bring a “big picture” historical view to New England events. Kelley Brown, a social studies teacher from Easthampton High School and the Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year for 2010, will serve as Curricular Projects Coordinator.

If this intrigues you, I hope you will apply! For further information, see our website below, or contact me at