November 21, 2022
[THANKSGIVING] This Land Is Their Land by Dr. David J. Silverman
For most of us – Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, communion and appreciation – shared around a table groaning under the weight of rich foods with family and friends. Central to the holiday is a story dating back to the 1620s – when our European forbearers gathered with native peoples and peacefully celebrated a harvest. Or, at least, that’s what legend, myth and selective memory would lead us to believe. Today’s guest, Dr. David J. Silverman, has authored a powerful new history of Thanksgiving which explores the story from all angles – and makes the case that the way we remember and consider Thanksgiving requires thoughtful reconsideration as we endeavor to tell the full story of American history. On this week’s PreserveCast, we’re exploring the untold story of Thanksgiving with an authority on the subject.
From the Preservation Maryland studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore. This is preservecast. For most of us Thanksgiving is a time of reflection communion and appreciation shared around a table groaning under the weight of rich foods with family and friends central to the holiday is a story dating back to the sixteen twenties when our European forebears gathered with native peoples and peacefully celebrated a harvest or at least that’s what the legend myth and selective memory would lead us to believe.
Today’s guest Dr. David J Silverman has authored a powerful new history of Thanksgiving which explores the story from all angles and makes the case for the way that we remember and consider Thanksgiving requires thoughtful reconsideration as we endeavor to tell the full story of American history. On this week’s preserved guests we’re exploring the untold story of Thanksgiving with an authority on the subject.
Hey it’s Nick here and as we approach Thanksgiving I want to say thank you to all of our listeners you’ve made this podcast a huge success and have grown us to become one of the most listened to history and preservation podcasts in the nation. No small feat for a podcast produced on a shoestring. And speaking of that shoestring and thanks. Would you consider making a quick donation today to help us bring more content like this to you in the year ahead. Every bit helps and we greatly appreciate whatever you can provide.
Now let’s head back to the 16 twenties to get the full story of Thanksgiving. Dr. David Jay Silverman is the Director of Graduate Studies and a professor of history at the George Washington University Department of History. Dr. Silverman specializes in Native American colonial American and American racial history. His most recent book is This Land is Their Land. The Wampanoag Indians Plymouth colony and the troubled history of Thanksgiving published by Bloomsbury in twenty nineteen his other books include thunder sticks.
Read brethren vinaigrette and faith and boundaries. His essays have won major awards from the Omaha Andro Institute of Early American history and culture and the New York Association of history. This is Nick Redding you’re listening to preserve cast. And today we are joined by Dr. David J. Silverman who is the Director of Graduate Studies and a professor of history at the George Washington University department of history. We’re going to be talking about his most recent book. This land is their land.
The Wampanoag Indians Plymouth colony and the troubled history of Thanksgiving which is timely given this time of the year. Dr. SILVERMAN It’s a pleasure to have you here. And so before we get started we always loved to learn a little bit more about our guests. So where did you grow up. And I suppose what sparked your interest in history and stories like those that you now chronicle. I grew up in Chelmsford Massachusetts which is about 30 miles northwest of Boston.
And being in eastern Massachusetts it’s a very historically minded area with a lot of focus on the area of the American Revolution. I have to imagine that my my interest in history started there.
But what really sparked my interest was classes that I took in college when I went to Rutgers University I had a an array of just top flight history professors who opened my eyes just just how dynamic and interesting historical study could be particularly history from the bottom up as we say in the history of marginalized groups whose voices aren’t normally heard in in mainstream narratives.
So you know my interest was generated at the college level and then I ran with it right into graduate school and teaching and writing.
So you get your European Study at Princeton and you’ve written extensively about different issues of of native peoples and the history of that and you’ve really seized on a topic now that that is so interesting and so timely in terms of just trying to tell the full story of American history and trying to get that story right and sort of pass through the mythology and I thought maybe it’d be helpful to sort of set the stage for Thanksgiving because we actually have quite a few listeners around the globe who perhaps may not be familiar with the traditional story of what American Thanksgiving is and so maybe before we get into the research that you’ve done in sort of the reality of the story what is the myth or the traditional story we’re led to believe and I suppose maybe you know by extension what do most Americans believe when it comes to Thanksgiving.
Sure. So in the traditional Thanksgiving story the heroes are the pilgrims and these are religious refugees from early 17th century England.
The story is that these were religiously minded folk whom the king of England wouldn’t allow to practice their faith as as they wished and so seeking an opportunity for religious freedom as the story would have it they braved the stormy Atlantic and then arrived off the coast of what’s now Massachusetts part of the story is that as they’re bobbing at anchor off the
coast they draw what amounts to a pro Constitution write a forerunner of the United States Constitution with what is now called the Mayflower Compact an agreement that the people of this colony would live by majority rule and and follow the laws agreed on by the majority and then they began exploring for a site to build their new settlement dedicated to religious freedom.
And when the natives come in is that they are greeted by a native leader Massa’s soya. Very rarely do traditional accounts identify his group the mob and dogs.
The story is that yeah these these Indian people are friendly and that the two sides get along and that the natives welcome these strangers to their land and that eventually they sit down to a great dinner in which they celebrate their their friendship and then effectively the natives grant their country to the colonists and their successors and then disappear they just go away and the United States emerges from this.
This foundation of religious freedom and bloodless Indian colonial relations and everyone lives happily ever after. You end up with a country that’s dedicated to freedom of conscience democracy and majority rule and as for what happens to the natives no one really knows. So obviously your book which again is this land is their land.
The Wampanoag Indians Plymouth colony and the troubled history of Thanksgiving you clearly make the case that this isn’t the real story of Thanksgiving. And I really want. I mean really in-depth and interesting way. But before we dive in and maybe unpack that story to some extent and obviously you encourage people to pick up the book because that’s the way you can really pass all this out.
But I wanted to ask you if you could explain how you how you found the documentation necessary to determine fact from fiction because I think for a lot of people when we think about this kind of work and for the preservation community particularly when we’re dealing with native peoples there’s so little writing. So how did how did you pass fact from fiction and sort of really get at what the real story is because it’s obviously quite different from what you just described as sort of the legend of Thanksgiving right.
So yeah let’s begin with the basic principle that except for very rare circumstances Native people were not producing their own written documents. Now eventually you do have native people in New England who are capable of producing written documents by the mid to late 17th century upwards of a third of Wampanoag males could read and write in their own language because there was a thriving missionary program and the kind of reformed Protestants who colonized New England placed a heavy emphasis on literacy.
And. Rather than try to futilely teach native people literacy in English they adopted a program of putting the Wampanoag language. To do an alphabet. And then teaching writing in that format. And indeed you know the first Bible ever published in North America is in the Wampanoag language. And that’s that’s published in the in the 60s 50s.
But you know the records that the Wampanoag people left behind written by themselves are very far and few between. I mean they amount to the few dozens rather than say the hundreds or thousands. Fortunately when studying native people you know Southern New England was. Arguably the most literate region in the entire Western world during the 17th century with the possible exception of Sweden.
And you know the Puritans were highly literate men and women they left copious copious records and more than that. You’re not just getting the perspective of one society from these records colonial New England was divided into several different colonies. Massachusetts Plymouth Connecticut Rhode Island New Haven was a separate colony even though even Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were their own independent societies during this period of time they weren’t part of any larger colony.
These colonies were often rivals with one another and they compete with one another for resources. And in that competition, they often enlisted native people against other English people. And so. They’re not viewing native affairs from just one perspective. What’s more native people had this knack for getting their points across these colonies and they were forces with which to be reckoned.
I think we need we always need to keep in mind when we’re discussing the colonial period that Native people are most of the people and they exercised an enormous amount of political-military and economic power and so colonists did not have a choice even if they were so inclined to ignore these people. If you look in the index of almost any major collection of colonial records you will find that the longest entry is Indians for the reasons I just mentioned.
Now let’s be clear colonies were only interested in a narrow slice of Native Affairs. It was the areas of native life that most affected colonies. So we’re talking about military affairs politics trade colonies did not pay much attention to Native American women no attention to Native American children. Very little attention to Native American religion except in so far as it had to do with missionary affairs.
So you know there’s a lot of aspects of Native American life which escaped colonial view often because native people did not want them to see those aspects of their lives. But we can talk in great detail about politics the economy military affairs intertribal relations to some degree with a level of depth that produces rich history.
So I drew on the robust collection of colonial records relating to native people to write this book plus archeological records and native oral traditions. So I think one of the most surprising aspects of the story which you go into great detail in the book is that how long before 16 20 of the Wampanoag people had been dealing with Europeans. I think for many Americans there’s this sense that 16 20 is like almost the first time they meet.
So why don’t most of us get wrong about that. And why do we get that wrong I guess. I mean what why is the historiography or at least in popular memory so different from the reality so Wampanoag people and other native people in southern New England had been in contact with Europeans for at least a full century before the Mayflower arrived the first documented contact between the Wampanoag and Europeans is 1524 not 1624 with the voyage of Giovanni de Verizon.
And in all likelihood there had been contacts in the years before 15 24 because we know that a European fisherman from a variety of nations were active off of Newfoundland as Grand Banks from at least the fourteen nineties maybe even before Columbus. So there were extensive contacts over the course of that century and most of them did not go well.
Sometimes they involve trading when both sides wanted that but almost invariably these contacts degenerated into violence and very often into slave-raiding by Europeans who would take native people and then shipped them overseas and and sell sell them into bondage. As for why we don’t know about these stories I think there’s there’s a variety of reasons.
One is that white Americans had been loathe to acknowledge the ancient ness of Native American peoples and the dynamism of their history that stretched on for thousands of years before the arrival of colonies to acknowledge the depth and richness of that history would require paying greater heed to Native American people and their claims to sovereignty and resource rights and colonialism is all about dismissing those rights.
What’s more acknowledging that century of Contact would require a much more complicated story about why the Wampanoag dealt with the English the way they did the way the Thanksgiving myth is structured as native people exist just to give their country away and then disappear. Well you know the fact of the matter is they understood who these newcomers were. They had some sense of what they were trying to achieve and they were responding in kind.
And so we would you know taking heat of that that story would require treating the Wampanoag in three-dimensional form rather than the kind of flattened way that the Thanksgiving myth does. It’s so interesting and I feel like perhaps you know I mean there is though there’s a lot of challenges with all of our history and the way in which we remember it and the way in which it’s told. But I feel like because of the popular American memory of Thanksgiving this is such a great opportunity to talk about what what really did happen versus what the legend is.
And you know it’s it’s an opportunity really at this moment to I feel like this book which came out I guess last year really comes at an important moment not only telling that story but really kind of speaking to us this broader issue of how we remember American history who who we talk about in history. It’s just it’s critically important and in it and it puts us in an uncomfortable position probably all of us because we all have these very fond memories of Thanksgiving and there’s sort of the the modern version of what Thanksgiving means to us and then and then that myth that brings this all together.
Well let’s talk a little bit more about that when we come back and maybe kind of get into the legend what gets if there’s anything that it gets right and we’ll talk all about that when we come back right here on PreserveCast.
One hundred years ago in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was signed into law and officially granted 20 million American women the right to vote. This mass expansion of voting rights was the result of generations of intense activism known as the women’s suffrage movement that has had a lasting legacy on the continued fight for equality in America. In recognition of the struggles and achievements of a once disenfranchised majority preserve cast is honored to share remarkable stories of suffragists within Egypt. So this year beyond the ballot is supported by preservation Maryland. Gallagher of Julius and Jones attorneys at law and the Maryland Historical Trust. To learn more about influential women past and present or to donate please visit Ballard and beyond. RG. This week on Ballot & Beyond we’ll learn about is still how young a leader of civic and suffrage organizations in Baltimore that supported African-American visibility and racial equality. Read by Kacy Rohn the primary researcher of Maryland’s historic context statement on the state’s suffrage legacy.
Estelle Hall young suffrage and civil rights champion like the National Movement Maryland’s suffrage movement was highly segregated. Many white suffragists rejected the participation of African-American women and used racist arguments to support their cause when it suited them. A typical case was that made by an officer of the woman’s suffrage league of Maryland. In a 1919 letter to the Baltimore Sun that read Not only would women’s suffrage give white control in these states a more permanent footing than now but white supremacy will continue to grow. In this racist environment. African-American women formed separate suffrage organizations in 1915. Estelle Hall young organized an African-American women’s suffrage club in West Baltimore. Young was a native Georgian who had attended Spelman College and Atlanta University where she studied under WABE Dubois. She later moved to Baltimore and formed a groundbreaking household with her husband Dr. Howard young proprietor of the city’s first African-American owned and operated pharmacy. Their daughter and Louise young would become the first African-American woman to practice medicine in Maryland. Under Estelle Hall Young’s leadership the progressive suffrage Club also called the colored women’s suffrage club advanced women’s suffrage at a time when black women’s voting rights were just one part of a much broader push for equality. Young knew that the passage of the 19th Amendment was just one step. Young didn’t stop when women were enfranchised. She rallied Maryland’s African-American women to vote to send a message to the state legislators who had worked to defeat suffrage on the grounds that it would expand the pool of eligible black voters. She declared we women are especially bitter against the type of white politicians who said that we would not know a ballot if we saw one coming up the street. We must register in order to vote and we must vote in order to rebuke those politicians. Young organized new club chapters set up weekly meetings to instruct women on how to register and vote and asked local ministers to allow five minutes at the beginning of Sunday services for a message about voter registration. These efforts were rewarded across Baltimore’s black neighborhoods. The Afro-American newspaper stated that women were out in force to register and stayed in long lines stretching out on the sidewalk until their turn came. Old and young beautiful and homely they were there with bells on. Young and many of her fellow suffrage called members persisted and political and civic activism long after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Unlike white women black women still faced legal voting restrictions until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which barred racially discriminatory voting practices.
This is Nick Redding you’re listening to preserve cast today we’re joined by Dr. David J Silverman who is a professor of history and the Director of Graduate Studies at the George Washington University Department of History and we’re talking about his book This land is their land the Wampanoag Indians Plymouth colony and the troubled history of Thanksgiving. Before we took our break we talked a little bit about sort of why we why we got this wrong how we pass things out and also this this interesting sense that there’s almost a century’s worth of contact prior to Thanksgiving even though sort of the popular American memories that it all starts in 1620.
And Dr. Silverman explained how that’s not the case. I suppose it’s hard to say what is the real story of Thanksgiving and clearly you know you’ve dedicated an entire volume to this which we encourage folks to pick up. But you make the case that the real story is also rooted in division and then alliance. But if we’re specifically talking about the actual gathering of Thanksgiving like the actual moment it happens does the apocryphal story get anything right it get something right.
It gets more wrong than it gets right. There was a dinner between the English and Plymouth colony and the whopping dogs led by their chief so it was some secret. That’s what it gets right. Everything else about it is wrong for first and foremost. This dinner was really not a big deal to the participants. It wasn’t the seal of their alliance. They had agreed to an alliance months earlier.
There were several other. Events involving the two sides coming to one another’s aid in and when they were threatened by foreigners that were more important to sealing their relationship than this dinner. Neither side mentioned this event again in any of their diplomacy at least that we have. We have record of they don’t seem to attribute that much importance to it.
It gets a lot wrong. So you know first and foremost it it premised on this idea that the whomping dogs were simply friendly. Well that is just not true. The more benign relationship with the English was calculated and it extended from the fact that the warmer nights had been devastated by a terrible epidemic disease.
Between the year sixteen sixteen sixteen nineteen in which the whomping on population fell by at least half and by as much as three quarters that left the Wampanoag vulnerable to raids by their western neighbors. The Narragansett tribe. Who had not been afflicted by the epidemic. And they were the Narragansett were taking advantage of the and sweetness to try to reduce them to the status of tributaries.
Now as I noted earlier the Wampanoag had a century of mostly violent contact with Europeans so you might ask why would they reach out to these people and it was a gamble. It was a real gamble by Marcel slay most of the tribe appears to have been opposed to making an alliance with this colony. There are many elements in Wampanoag society that wanted to wipe Plymouth out because they viewed Europeans as a threat as indeed they were.
But Master saw its main concern was the Narragansett not the English. He knew the English were potent. He knew their weapons were terrific particularly their guns and their metal swords and hatchets and he wanted to enlist those resources in his campaign to maintain his independence Wampanoag independence from the Narragansett. That’s the reason he reaches out to these people. It’s not because they’re friendly it’s because they needed assistance in the face of a Narragansett threat.
The other thing that Thanksgiving story gets wrong is that it treats the Wampanoag English relationship as if it was an uncomplicated friendship. Let’s be clear there was an alliance and it did enable the Waffen OGs to fend off the Narragansett. But this relationship went to hell in a handbasket. Within a matter of years as the English expand it of course generated Wampanoag resentment and the stronger the English got.
The more of a heavy hand they used in their relationship with the Wampanoag people seizing their land trying to reduce them to subjugated status extending English jurisdiction over them in ways great and small. They they took the initial Wampanoag offer of alliance and used it as a wedge to exploit Wampanoag people to the point that the two within the second generation went to war with one another in this incredibly bloody conflict that ultimately broke the back of Native American power in southern New England.
So you know the big point is yeah they had a dinner together they got along for a brief moment that is far from the big picture. It should not be the main takeaway from this episode of history. Sort of jokingly say you must be fun to have at a Thanksgiving dinner. But I run a holiday every year. But in all seriousness when it comes to Thanksgiving so and I’m saying Thanksgiving 2020 which is in and of itself gonna be a strange Thanksgiving.
But as Americans gathered to celebrate. How should that real story. I’m curious what you feel. Having dedicated so much of your life to researching this and and understanding this and really painting a picture just now about how it’s this it’s a moment but so much of what we. We celebrate honor commemorate is wrong. How do you feel that the real story of what transpired should impact the way most Americans think about the holiday.
Should we change the way we celebrate or just change the way we tell the story to ourselves and our children. In your opinion what’s the right way to move forward with this holiday. Well let me emphasize that neither I nor most Wampanoag people that I know are the least bit opposed to getting together with family and friends and offering thanks for what’s good in our lives. What. I take issue with is attaching a patently false history to that exercise.
And I’m opposed to it not just because I’m a historian and I’m a stickler for the details. I think this myth is damaging. I know it’s damaging to native people and Wampanoag people in particular. The main reason I wrote this book is that I’ve had multiple conversations over the years with whomping on people who told me how hard Thanksgiving season is for them every year because it feels to them that at best American society is being dismissive about their historical traumas and at worst it feels like they’re reveling in it.
And. Let me emphasize you know we live in a multiracial democracy. However difficult some white Americans are finding that and a multi racial democratic future requires histories that allow all elements of American society to see themselves. In that in that history and the Thanksgiving myth does not do that. It’s a whitewash of the bloody nose of colonialism.
If I ask any reasonable adult and say you know do you think a shared dinner is an apt symbol of Native American colonial relations almost to a person. Well no. Even if they don’t know the details of the actual first Thanksgiving and Plymouth Wampanoag relationship most reasonable adults if you ask them to think about this. No it’s false. So then I asked why do you propagating a falsehood to our children in schools as part part of this history.
It’s not necessary for the celebration of a holiday. For a dinner with family and friends and offering thanks for what’s good what’s good in our lives. I also think it’s worth noting here. White northerners celebrated Thanksgiving for the better part of two hundred plus years without attaching this story to the holiday. That was a late 19th century invention.
And it was an invention by white Protestants in the north who are uncomfortable about a number of developments in American society. Between 1850 and nineteen hundred. They were uncomfortable about the influx of Catholic immigrants from from Europe. They were uncomfortable with the rise of free black people in the United States including the north.
They were uncomfortable with the way that the United States was becoming associated with the story of slavery and then Jim Crow and the story of the violent subjugation of native people in the West. The Thanksgiving myth addressed all of these cultural tensions. It allowed white Protestant northerners to become the heroes of the American founding.
Rather than say the ne’er do wells of colonial Virginia it allowed a story about friendly native American colonial relations to become the founding of the United States rather than the story of Bloody Indian colonial warfare and slavery which is more characteristic of colonial development. It was a story about a family colony in the north dedicated to religious freedom thereby distracting from the unfolding stories about slavery racial injustice and the violent subjugation of Indigenous people in the West.
It allowed New England to be the exception to the you know the darker story of American history. So in all these ways and more this this story was doing cultural work for white Protestants in the Northeast. The other thing it has done over time is it is tried to get people with last names like mine. Silverman to identify with the pilgrims as we.
As fellow white people. Let me emphasize I do not descend from the pilgrims or the Puritans who followed them in New England and both the descendants of the Pilgrims and the descendants of the Wampanoag or my fellow Americans. And so from my perspective, they both deserve to be treated in three-dimensional form. If we’re going to recount the history of this period Thanksgiving that does not do that. Is a fantastic answer. I mean that’s just a really.
You obviously have spent a lot of time thinking about this and I think what you said about the need in a multiracial democracy for people to see themselves in history. I mean that is just that might be the quote of the year for preserve cast and something that not only is important for people working in academia but also people working in our field in historic preservation and trying to think about how we make sure that the places that we protect and put the stories that we tell our representative of that that broad swath because we’re not going to have a historic preservation field or a movement if it is not diverse because we we need everyone to see themselves in the work that we do in the places that we save and sort of maybe as a Segway to that.
I would presume given your research that you’ve spent some time at the historic site Plymouth Plantation or at least you’ve been there. I’m curious what you think about their interpretation and how that has evolved and how you feel as if they’re telling that story. I have a mixed mind of it and let let me say from the outset I do not envy the task of the directors of the Plymouth Plantation. To tell the story as I recount it.
Warts and all would ruin their museum. I mean you know they do have to sell tickets to the public and the fact matter is the public wants an uplifting patriotic history. That’s what brings people into the museum now.
You know I I think they do a pretty good job of acknowledging that while protecting people existed and that Wampanoag people had had their own perspective on these events and indeed you know they they see themselves as a bi-cultural institution and there is a Wampanoag section of this living history museum run directed by Wampanoag people who tell the story from from their own perspective.
But you know let’s be clear if you told this history with all of the power politics and bloodshed and exploitation if you treated both sides in three-dimensional form neither the descendants of the Mayflower passengers nor the descendants of the Weeping dogs nor the ticket-buying public would be happy with it. Good history by which I mean history that’s told in all of its disturbing detail has a tendency to make everyone upset.
And my job is not to sell patriotism or just sell an uplifting story. My job my job is to tell a complex history in all of its complexity. Museums have a different task. I mean they need to bring in audience members and they need to answer to the demands and the concerns of their various constituencies. I’m grateful I don’t have to do that.
I think that that that isn’t an apt answer and I think that that you’re right they have done a tremendous job to try and embrace all of that. But telling it and that level of complexity is tough particularly when you know somebody might spend an hour or two on site and how you get into the level of detail that you would need to is is it is a challenge unto itself. Right. You know I think you know what Plymouth Plantation wants to do is they want it. What they have done and I think pretty well is they have now told a more nuanced story of contact.
They don’t want to tell the story of the degeneration of that relationship at ending in King Phillips war. And you know I think that’s a much harder sell. It’s a it’s a disturbing story. It also means that they would have to tell the story of the challenging survival of the Wampanoag people after that devastation and that is also a very complex difficult disturbing story to tell.
Well if there’s any takeaway from today’s interview it’s that the story of Thanksgiving is not as simple as perhaps portrayed. And it is extremely complex which is why it’s so wonderful that you tackled this. I’m curious if people want to pick up the book. I mean obviously they can go to Amazon but I want to let you give a plug for where they can find out about it and I’m also curious where they can find out more about you if they’re interested or maybe you can give us a an idea of what you’re working on next.
Well if you’re going to buy the book I would encourage you particularly during the pandemic to order it through your local independent bookstore. Then they need the help. Let’s keep these let’s keep these independent local businesses afloat. That’s the way we do it don’t take don’t. Don’t make the easy purchase through Amazon Amazon’s going to be fine. But our our local merchants need our help.
So you know or go to an independent bookstore like owls you know which also funnels resources to these these local these local businesses. On my way I don’t have a social media presence at all. It’s part of what allows the time to write these books. So if you’re interested in learning more about me you can go to the George Washington University history Web site and my profile is posted there. And can you give us a sense. Are you working on anything right now.
Something. What’s the next research topic. Yeah. I’m undertaking a major research project right now I’m in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the 16 19 project and this renewed national conversation about race in America and its historical origins.
I’m making an intervention by writing a wide-ranging four century-long history about the role of Indigenous people in American race history. I think too often particularly of late that history has been cast merely as a story of whites and blacks. That is not how American racial history unfolded American racial history has been triangulated involving Indigenous people African peoples and European peoples from its very beginnings.
And that you know part of the American a white American agenda of making native people disappear. Right. Of making native people irrelevant has been sidelining them from that history to native people played a profound role in the evolution of race in America. And I intend to bring that story to the public well that is a huge topic and so timely and really looking forward to hearing about that and hearing more about it.
We’ll have to have you back when that’s published although I’m sure that that is no small endeavor to encapsulate that I mean that that seems like it could be multiple volumes. Well hopefully it won’t take too long. We’ll see. Well it’s necessary and it’s important. So before we leave we asked this of everyone. What is your favorite historic place or site. I have a lot of them. You know when I was growing up there’s no question that a one of the places I drew inspiration from was Old North Bridge in Concord Massachusetts.
People from my town participated in the battle of Concord and I always found it inspirational. There’s this idea that every day peasant farmers took up arms against the most polished army in the world at the time to defend their right to self-rule. In more recent times though as I’ve been focusing on Native American history I’ve been interested in historic sites that.
Relate the ancient ness of Indigenous people in the Americas to modern times and there are two sites that really stuck with me recently that achieve that one is both of them are in Alberta province in Canada and one of them is a is head smashed open which is a site that is run by the Blackfeet people and this was a Buffalo John where native people for thousands of years would orchestrate Buffalo stampedes off a cliff.
So they they could harvest the herd in in large numbers. They engaged in this practice until they adopted the horse. A new technology a new colonial technology at which point they left off this practice because they didn’t need it anymore. And you know the fact that you see the effect of this radical technological change and the adoption of the words and the fact that this site is being interpreted by modern Blackfeet people is profound to me.
There is another site a short drive south of head smashed in. It’s called writing on stone provincial park and this is a near a bad lands in southern Alberta that has petroglyphs from over the course of thousands of years left by indigenous people. The ancestors of the Blackfeet and multiple other native groups and some of these are geometric signs that are really difficult to interpret but other petroglyphs include a car from the 1920s right.
And so you have you see native. These are native records right. Native produced records left over the course of many hundreds and maybe even thousands of years. And I just find it incredibly moving and humbling. Well those are two fantastic answers and we recently had on a member of the Iroquois tribe talking about another native site gone on began in upstate New York which is a Seneca site.
And yeah I think that this this could be a whole future preserved cast. Take a look at native sites and how they’re interpreted because it’s such a fascinating piece of our history and obviously given your interest and background and the volume that you’re working on hopefully something we see more of in the future because there are so few sites dedicated to that story and telling that story and particularly operated and run by Native peoples so that they have the opportunity tell their own story.
So fascinating answer. Just a fantastic interview so much fun to talk with you and get a sense to hear from you and so timely is as we approach Thanksgiving and a difficult year which much with much to give thanks for much to be concerned about. And an important time for us to think about the true origin story and how this all came together as we try and get our history right and tell that full story. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today. Thanks for the interest in the conversation.
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Dr. David J. Silverman is the Director of Graduate Studies and a Professor of History at the George Washington University Department of History. Dr. Silverman specializes in Native American, Colonial American, and American racial history. His most recent book is This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving, published by Bloomsbury in 2019. His other books include “Thundersticks,” “Red Brethren,” “Ninigret,” and “Faith and Boundaries.” His essays have won major awards from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the New York Association of History.