Course: Race & Ethnicity in the American West

HC 444H/431H

Professor: Kevin Hatfield

Graduation Requirement: This class will fulfill both of the following requirements: a Social Science Colloquium and an AC Multicultural class. If the student has already taken a Social Science Colloquium, this class will fulfill both of the following requirements: an Elective Colloquium and an AC Multicultural class.

Did the American West function as a “Racial Frontier” that offered immigrants and migrants greater opportunity for political autonomy, economic prosperity, or social mobility than their respective places of origin? Or, did cultures of white supremacy, institutionalized racism, and racialized forms of conquest, colonialism, pastoralism, slavery, assimilation, exclusion, and ethnocide complicate such opportunities? How did indigenous and immigrant cultures encounter and adapt to one another? How did nonwhite individuals, families, communities and peoples exercise agency, resistance, and adaptation in the American West? Did broader structures and forces such as market capitalism, state imperialism, or the natural environment circumscribe the actions and decisions of individuals? How did race and ethnicity intersect with gender, class, nationality, religion, and other sites of oppression in the American West? How were race and ethnicity defined and understood over time and space? How did concepts and meanings of race and ethnicity shape immigration, citizenship, property, labor, and liberty? Within the context of race and ethnicity can the American West be understood as a geographic place, cultural region, social process, or imagined construct?

These questions frame the use of “race” and “ethnicity” as categories of historical analysis, rather than simply topics or areas of content. Sociologist James Loewen is fond of quipping that “sociology is history without the work, and history is sociology without the brains.” His aphorism intentionally exaggerates the traditional epistemological inclinations of the two disciplines—history toward empirical evidence, archival research, and narrative reconstruction, and sociology toward critical theory, structuralist analysis, and longterm sociohistorical
processes. The emergence of the socalled “New Western History” in the 1980s and 1990s—exemplified by the scholarship of the “Big Four” Patricia Nelson Limerick, Donald Worster, William Cronon, and Richard White—began to interweave social history with critical race theory, intersectionality theory, whiteness studies, and world systems theory. These fundamental reinterpretations confronted the subfield of western history with postmodern and postcolonial historiography and comparative historical sociology, and ultimately subverted the
dominant Anglocentric, triumphalist “Frontier” metanarrative of American historical development that had largely endured since Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” of the 1890s. Since the 1990s, scholars like Jeff Ostler, Quintard Taylor, Arnoldo DeLeon, Peggy Pascoe, and their peers have advanced the field by continuing to recapture forgotten voices while interpreting the experiences of historical actors through interdisciplinary theoretical lenses.

This course invites students to participate in an “apprenticeship” in the historian’s craft, and perform community based research projects organized around a central case study of the cultural history of the Northern Great Basin, encompassing EuroAmerican, Chinese, and Basque immigration, as well as a particular focus on the Northern Paiute.

In preparation for the research, students will critically examine the ethics, methodology, and historiography imperative to academic historians engaging in inquiry with community partners. Additionally, students will learn appropriate protocols and guidelines for researching and working with cultural heritage collections and local community members in collaboration with Jennifer O’Neal, University Historian and Archivist, and David Lewis, Cultural Liaison of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Ultimately, the course will position undergraduates to create new knowledge and contribute original arguments to the existing scholarship on this region through interaction with visiting scholars, including native and nonnative historians, and members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Burns Paiute Tribe.

Students’ research will enjoy a course afterlife through dual exhibits hosted by the Des Chutes County Museum and the UO Libraries, as well as public presentations delivered at a prospective Northern Great Basin Symposium in Winter 2014. Finally, a field research experience in central Oregon will contextualize students’ research, and afford an in-situ learning environment for living community memory and oral history. At sites such as the Warm Springs Reservation and Museum, Smith Rock State Park, Crooked River Canyon, and the High Desert Museum students will enjoy access to unique archival and oral sources, highlighted by interaction with Wilson Wewa, spiritual leader of the Northern Paiute and Washaat longhouse; Minerva Soucie, artist and historian of Northern Paiute; and Jim Gardner, author of Star Spangled War Dance: The Hidden History of the Northern Paiute.