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"The Vanishing Indian": Removal, Relocation, Reservations and Representation in the 19th century

Theme: The Peopling of America: Migration and Immigration
Topic: “The Vanishing Indian”: Removal, Relocation. Reservations and Representation in the 19th Century
Date: January 6, 2005
Scholar: Catherine Corman, Ph.D.

Overview | Required Reading | Reading Questions

Materials selected and syllabus created by Catherine Corman, Ph.D. (


Our readings and discussions in this meeting will allow us to get a handle on historians of Indians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, they will help us think critically about the ways Whites have portrayed Indians – in a variety of academic fields as well as in visual and material culture. Also important will be an awareness of how Indians, themselves, are setting standards for the ways we all approach American history and Indians’ place in it. Our work together will prepare us to analyze images that both portray individual Indians and tell their collective stories. Acknowledging that Indians have not vanished, we will think creatively about ways to use primary sources – from treaties to paintings, to photographs – to help our students appreciate the richness and complexity of Indian histories.


(please read in order they appear below)

Wallace, Anthony F.C. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993. (all)

Nichols, Roger L. American Indians in U.S. History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003. (“The Struggle for the west, 1840-1890” and “Survival and Adaptation, 1890-1930,” 125-177)

Rand, Jacki Thompson. "Primary Sources: Indian Goods and the History of American Colonialism and the 19th-Century Reservation," in Clearing a Path: Theorizing the Past in Native American Studies, Nancy Shoemaker, ed. New York and London: Routledge, 2002, 137-157.

Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. "American Indian Intellectualism and the New Indian Story," in Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians, Devon A. Mihesuah, ed. Lincoln and London: University of  Nebraska Press, 1998, 111-138.

Deloria, Philip J. Playing Indian. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998 ("Natural Indians and Identities of Modernity,” 95-127.


1. Compare interactions between Indian groups and the U.S. government in the 1830s and in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. What was similar? What was different?

2. Using examples from Wallace and Nichols, identify moments of Indian success and failure. Define “success” and “failure” from Indian and EuroAmerican perspectives.

3. Elliot West, an historian whose works you are not reading for our session, argues that one of the most important reasons Plains Indians and U.S. settlers found themselves in conflict after the Civil War was that both wanted the same things: land, power, and prosperity. Could that be said of the removal era as well? Be prepared to explain your answer.

4.  How do we know what we know about Indians?  What kinds of evidence have historians in different periods relied on to tell Indians' stories?  Do these stories tell us anything about Indians at all, or do they reveal more about the members of the dominant American culture than they do about Indians?

5. What are differences between academic disciplines of history, ethnography,             anthropology, and art history?  How have these differences helped to create new ways of writing Indian history?  How have they created disciplinary difficulties?  Are there different ways of "knowing"  --  or just different ways of knowing what we know?

6. What do you think images add to the study of Indian history?  Are photographs inherently different than other kinds of images?  If so/if  not -- why?  What would you want your own students to keep in mind if you were showing them photographs of         Indians from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?  What advice do you think Shoemaker, Rand, Cook-Lynn, Deloria, and Lipppard would give you?  With which are you most comfortable?

7. Given that many historians have advanced the belief that Indians were "vanishing," and given that Indians have not, in fact, "vanished," how do we use much of the historical  record that does not support what has actually happened?  Would we, for instance, want to expose high school students to the work of "racist" nineteenth-century historians? How might we use such works to help students develop critical thinking skills and appreciate the concept of historiography?

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