Q&A with 2017 Harrison Distinguished Lecturer

Olivia Mohr

Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Mass Media and Technology Hall Auditorium, Christina Snyder, associate professor of history from Indiana University Bloomington, will give a lecture for WKU’s annual Harrison Distinguished Lecture, presented by the WKU department of history.

Her lecture, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Civilizations: Indian Intellectual Culture During the Removal Era,” will focus on Native American individuals who attended Choctaw Academy, the United States’ first federally-controlled Indian boarding school, which operated from 1825 to 1848. Choctaw Academy was located outside of Lexington. During this time period, federal Native American policy shifted its focus from assimilation to removal. Snyder’s lecture will also discuss how Native Americans were and are perceived in the United States.

The lecture is a free, swipeable event.

Anthony Harkins is an associate professor of history at WKU, and he serves on the Harrison Lecture Committee that chooses the speaker and makes arrangements for their visit. He is also the director of the popular culture studies program.

According to Harkins, he and the rest of the Harrison Lecture Committee chose Snyder as the speaker because they believed her research seemed relevant to WKU’s students due to its ties to Kentucky’s history and because they felt her research focused on relevant issues involving relations between different ethnicities that Harkins said he feels are important today.

Harkins hopes Snyder’s lecture will inspire students to “see connections between their own experiences and those of other colonized peoples around the world” and “recognize that Native Americans were, and remain today, not just passive victims of American imperialism and conquest.”

Harkins said he also hopes students will learn how students at Choctaw Academy fought against American leaders’ efforts to “civilize” them and hopes “students will see the connections between this seemingly long ago history and events and racially and culturally-based attitudes in modern day America.”

Snyder has written two books: “Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America” and “Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson.” She will incorporate several topics from her books into her lecture and will be signing copies of “Great Crossings” after her lecture.

What research have you conducted relating to Native Americans?

Native Americans have been a focus of my research for almost 20 years. As a college student, I analyzed Native American ceramics as a National Parks employee at the Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology. My research still incorporates material culture, but I also focus on oral traditions and historical documents. Most of my research focuses on Native peoples of the Southeast, but I have also learned more about Native peoples of Midwest since beginning my job at Indiana University eight years ago.

How do the books you have written relate to the lecture you are going to give at WKU?

This lecture is based on my most recent book, “Great Crossings,” as well as an article that will soon appear in The Journal of American History.

How does your teaching style and curriculum relate to the lecture you are going to give?

My teaching focuses on early American history, Native American history and the history of slavery. My lecture will touch on all these topics and also give the audience a sense of the kind of sources I use in my research and teaching.

Why did you choose to teach what you do?

Few Americans learn much about Native American history in school, but I believe that Native American history is an essential part of American history. All Americans should know it. 

How do you hope students will incorporate the knowledge they gain from your lecture into their everyday lives? 

Our own age is often compared to the Age of Jackson. Consider the comparisons between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump. I think that this is an apt comparison in many respects, and I hope that those who attend the lecture will gain a historical perspective on current issues including race, immigration and education that they can carry forward and use and they debate and consider current events.

How do you hope or feel your lecture will shape the way students perceive Native Americans and Native American culture? 

My lecture will challenge stereotypical presentations of Native Americans that often appear in popular culture and encourage attendees to see a more complicated and realistic depiction of Native Americans’ past, present and future. 

Reporter Olivia Mohr can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]