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Ôjemowôgan Alnôbaiwi: Telling History the Abenaki Way
November 12 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Ôjemowôgan Alnôbaiwi (Telling History the Abenaki Way): Language and Culture in “Pre-Historical” New England
Does history exist without written sources? Historians of North America’s Native peoples puzzle over this question. Until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most Natives spoke their Indigenous tongue as their first language. Moreover, they continued their culture of transmitting history orally rather than in writing. Although historians agree that Native peoples played a central role in the continent’s history, scholars still rely on documents written by Europeans and Americans to reconstruct historical Indigenous cultures. However, this talk will use language as a window into the long history and enduring culture of the Abenaki people, whose ancestors have inhabited present-day New England for over ten thousand years. It will examine key Abenaki words, analyze the cultural knowledge embedded within them, and demonstrate how historians can use such linguistic evidence to complement traditional documentary research. Above all, this talk seeks to reveal the dynamism and richness of an Indigenous people who have long inhabited New England.
Chris Whitehead (GSAS ’19) is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Virginia, specializing in the history of North America’s Indigenous peoples. He is currently working on his dissertation, The Between Waters: Kinship and Conflict in the Champlain Valley, 1600-1783, advised by Alan Taylor. The project examines the transformation of Lake Champlain from a precolonial boundary between Indigenous worlds into a contested imperial borderland during the eighteenth century and an international border in 1783. The Between Waters combines Chris’s interests in archival research, Native languages, and digital humanities methods. Before graduate school, Chris attended Dartmouth College, where he majored in History and minored in Public Policy and Environmental Studies. After college, Chris worked in Connecticut and New York, where he enjoyed taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and performing with his comedy troupe around the city. He hopes that his time studying improv comedy makes him an engaging lecturer – in person or, for the time being, on Zoom.
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