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Native Studies in East Germany: After 50+ Years, International Recognition
Part of my research on Native Studies in East Germany concerned the disciplinary history of cultural anthropology at the museums in Saxony (the state-run museums in Leipzig, Dresden, and Herrnhut, and the private Karl-May-Museum in Radebeul), as well as the development of university anthropology in Leipzig after World War II.Because the communist state controlled university enrollment and opened new classes only for as many students as were needed to staff museums and research institutions, there were only a few actors in the field between 1950 and 1990. Historiographical research quickly unveils disciplinary networks among colleagues and former fellow students. Most who studied “Ethnography,” as the discipline was called, at Leipzig or Humboldt University Berlin, later worked together at the museums in Leipzig and Dresden. Unlike developments in “the West,” there was no methodological and theoretical split between museum anthropology and university anthropology in the GDR, so graduates who moved on to different institutions often worked closely together. In addition, the Leipzig museum was a dedicated “research museum”―its research branch was fairly similar to research at the university.
As I dove into the historiography of GDR ethnography, an unexpected opportunity came up early in 2021: Dr. Allan T. Scholz, biologist at Eastern Washington University, approached me about a dissertation defended at Leipzig in 1965. Dietrich Treide’s work “The Organization of Indian Salmon Fishing in Western North America” had been written in German and was reviewed in American Anthropologist in 1966, where the reviewer, Wayne P. Suttles, expressed his regret that the text was only available in German. When Allan Scholz came across this 50-year-old review, he decided to have the German dissertation translated. He approached us at GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig about the rights and to obtain some biographical information on Treide.
I’ll document the bio sketch we provided below because it serves to explain the conditions under which a researcher behind the Iron Curtain created a work that, more than 50 years later, is still considered relevant to help build a sustainable fishing industry in the Columbia River basin in collaborative efforts between the US and Canadian governments, as well as the traditional salmon-fishing tribes of the region.
Here is the link to the full translation of the dissertation, with Allan Scholz’s foreword, at EWU’s open access site: https://dc.ewu.edu/scholz/1/
“Notes on the life of Dietrich Treide (25 March 1933 – 2 November 2008)
Dietrich Treide was a German ethnologist and university professor. He grew up in Leipzig and enrolled in the Cultural Anthropology program at Julius-Lips-Institute for Ethnology at Leipzig University in 1951. The institute had been rebuilt after the war by Julius Lips. His widow Eva Lips took over the chair after Julius’ early death in 1950, one of the first female tenured professors in Germany. The institute was one of two major training centers for cultural anthropology in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany). The Lipses had chosen exile from Nazi Germany for political reasons, and spent years in the United States during the war (at Columbia University in New York). They returned to Leipzig in 1947. After her husband’s death in 1950, Eva Lips led the institute into the mid-1960s and shaped the careers of East German ethnographers such as Treide through vivid exchange with researchers from “the West.” She worked to convey a realistic image of North American Indians, and instilled this ethic in Treide.
Unless one’s research focused on communities within the Eastern bloc, GDR ethnographers could rarely hope to receive travel permits for field work abroad, because the Iron Curtain and, after 1961, the Berlin Wall all but sealed off the country from the West. Therefore, a generation of “armchair ethnographers” emerged who were trained to anchor their work around the non-European material culture stored in vast pre-war museum collections (mostly at Leipzig and Dresden) and on diligent ethnohistorical research in the archives. Treide’s dissertation on Indigenous historical fishing economies and social structures along the Columbia River is an exemplary work in this category (1965).
Shaped by the Lipses’ philosophy, Treide’s dissertation shows the influence of American scholars such as Alfred Kroeber, Clark Wissler, and Julian Steward, rather than the ideas of Marxist evolutionary theory prevailing in East German scholarship at the time. However, his work reflects the East German, especially the Leipzig institute’s economic-historical approach to ethnography, and it shows the extensive training in languages and interdisciplinary area studies that became a marker of GDR ethnography. Even while finishing his dissertation, Treide already co-authored a popular survey titled Ethnography for Everybody (Ethnographie für Jedermann) which became a staple on the shelves in East German homes. Such efforts in popularizing academia served to dismantle the notion of scholarship as elitist, and to promote the study of other cultures as a way to diminish xenophobia and racism in post-war East Germany. It also offered a substitute to the wanderlust of East Germans suffering from Cold War travel restrictions.
Taking over the chair of the Leipzig institute in 1968, Treide was often confronted with demands to comply with communist policies on higher education, research, and culture. He was compelled to shift his research focus from “a few irrelevant Indian tribes” to broader – and politically more appealing – observations on the emergence of class and power structures in human history. Throughout his time as chair, he struggled to resist or dampen ideological attempts to steer research and teaching, or to shut down the institute and scatter its extensive historical library holdings. Possibly as a consequence of his inconvenient leadership, he gained tenure only in 1985.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Treide was elected to lead the reunified German Anthropological Association (1991), a gesture acknowledging his service to the field in East Germany. However, he also felt the shocks and painful changes in East German academia after reunification, which many observers today describe as a “neocolonial takeover” of East German institutes, chairs, and tenured positions by Western scholars and administrators. He lost the chair of the Leipzig institute, and retired in 1996. Together with his wife Barbara, a specialist on Pacific island cultures at the GRASSI Museum at Leipzig, he spent his remaining years on extensive research trips and field studies, and published on cultural identity among communities in the Pacific.
His senior authorship or co-authorship of 54 publications (he was sole author of 34 of them) during his tenure at Leipzig is a lasting testament to his scholarship. His treatise Die Organisierung des indianischen Lachsfangs im westlichen Nordamerika (The organization of Indian salmon fishing in western North America) is a prime example of his scholarship and his portrayal of realistic images of North American Indian cultures.
Indianthusiasm in East Germany: (Native) American Studies before 1990
In recent years, I have become involved in research on Native American imagery, representation, and Native American studies in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or communist East Germany. This helped fill a gap in my work, as my dissertation had started out looking into German perspectives on Native people and the emergence of Indianthusiasm in the 19th century, and its eventual implementation during the Nazi era. Later, my research investigated Native images in contemporary nationalist and anti-immigrant discourse in Germany and Europe (see the series of posts around the slogan “Indians Couldn’t Stop Immigration”).
In this new series of posts, I will discuss some work on Native American studies at East German universities and anthropological museums before 1990, and how pop culture shaped interrelations between the communist state, researchers, educators, Indian hobbyists, and the public.
At the GAAS annual meeting in 2021, “Participation in American Culture and Society,” my colleagues Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez (Leipzig) and Stefanie Schäfer (Vienna) invited me to participate in a round table titled “Im Osten nichts Neues? German American Studies in East and West Germany.” Presentation topics included networks of American Studies behind the Iron Curtain (Charlotte Lerg, Munich), African American studies in the GDR as a perspective on “the other America” (Astrid Haas, Lancashire), the history of the Dresden-based journal Zeitschrift für Anglistik/Amerikanistik (Michael Lörch, Mainz), and the work of the Rockefeller Foundation in early Cold-War West Germany and Eastern Europe (Renata Nowaczewska, Szczecin, Poland). My presentation “Indianthusiasm as International Solidarity” provided a brief historiography of Native Studies in the GDR.
English and American Studies in the GDR were closely tied to teacher training which, in turn, was framed by the strict centralized school curriculum. The bulk of teacher training was taken up by language practice and linguistics. The study of literature, culture, and history of the Anglo-American world, however, only had a peripheral role, and had to fit into the ideological communist framework: US history courses offered brief overviews, mostly skipping the colonial era and early republic, focusing on the Civil War and the US as an emerging global (imperialist) power and, after World War II, as communism’s major adversary in the Cold War. Literature courses covered classic texts and writers (e.g., Twain, Hawthorne, Hemingway), and then drew attention to “progressive” writers, i.e., representatives of the “Old Left,” social criticism, and minority literature, in order to represent the other, “better” America. This focus allowed GDR scholars to carve out a research niche because Western scholarship largely ignored works from within the labor movement, and much of “minority literature” until the late 20th century. Similarly, American-studies topics informed the GDR publishing industry. Apart from new editions and translations of literary classics, left-wing and minority writers were widely translated and published in East Germany.
Native American studies, while a marginal field of scholarly interest, fit into this system and enjoyed a degree of public visibility. Quite a few contemporary Native writers, such as N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich were featured by GDR publishing houses. Silko’s Ceremony was first translated into German by a GDR publisher. Interestingly, quite a few friends of mine who grew up in the West told me that, when they traveled across the Iron Curtain, they usually made a beeline to the next book store because East German publishers were reputed for their high-quality translations.
With just a brief window for my presentation, I could only outline my recent work and hint at fascinating interrelations between university and museum research in Native Studies, ideological directives on how the US and its minority politics were to be presented in museums and classrooms, and how all this tied in with Indianthusiasm. In our lively discussion we found several parallels in the academic treatment and public reception of Native American and African American topics, as both represented the “better America,” and their civil-rights movements were hailed as anti-imperialist currents with which the East German state wanted to identify. These topics also helped students and scholars justify a study interest in the US vis a vis the communist state whose policy-makers perceived any interest in “America” as suspicious.
Regarding Native American studies, I found it fascinating how the historical perspective illuminates current trends in the field – as in other recent discussions, I was asked about Native American reactions to East German Indianthusiasm, and in how far East Germans were aware of cultural appropriation in phenomena such as the many hobbyist clubs or in the DEFA “Indianer” movies. This discussion brought to the fore that cultural appropriation emerged as a concept (and an academic research interest) only in the late 20th century (probably starting with Vine Deloria’s works in the 1970s). Native Studies in East Germany before 1990 were progressive in their “cliche busting” (Glenn Penny) i.e., showing cultural diversity beyond feather-wearing, horse-riding Plains Indians, and highlighting the Red Power movement to show that Native peoples and Indigenous anticolonial/anti-imperialist resistance had by no means disappeared. Cultural appropriation as a concept, however, apparently wasn’t yet on the table, and none of my sources suggest that Native visitors and observers addressed problems we would discuss as cultural appropriation today. It would be interesting to learn, though, how Native visitors to East Germany (there were a few in the 1970s and 1980s, some leading figures of AIM, e.g. Russell Means, and some scholars and political figures, such as Ross Swimmer) reflected on their visits and encounters with communist state representatives, scholars, and hobbyists, once they returned back home.
“Posted!”: Panel Discussion on Posters, Cultural Anthropology, and Politics in Indian Country
In late October, 2020 we opened the exhibition “Posted: Reflection of Indigenous North America,” at galerie KUB in Leipzig. Two days later, the Covid fall lockdown struck and all museums in Saxony had to close. The situation will probably not improve before the exhibit ends on 28 February. In order to balance out the canceled opening, guided tours, and lectures, we held an online event on 12 February. The panel discussion was held in German and hosted by DAI Saxony on YouTube. Moderated by SES director Leontine Meijer-van Mensch, Catharina Wallwaey (one of the original Frankfurt student curators of the show), Markus Lindner, (instructor in North American cultural anthropology at Goethe Universität Frankfurt), Robin Leipold (acting director of the Karl May Museum Radebeul), and I worked through questions anchored around the topics of the exhibit.
I was intrigued to learn how the student project evolved, how topics were chosen and background research was conducted, especially since we hope to develop similar student projects in Leipzig. Such a project will have to struggle with cramming all the tasks of research and preparing the logistics of an exhibition into the frame of one or two semesters. Talking about the exhibition also allowed us to present the multimedia guide which SES colleagues developed. Our museum group has been working on a prototype for smart phones and tablets for some time, and the “Posted!” exhibition was the first opportunity for SES to implement this software. We believe it will be a great tool to accompany future exhibitions and projects, either to document the displays, to provide further information, or as a tool for co-curation with students and guest curators.
Commenting on German Indianthusiasm, as well as the challenges of financing and human resources at contemporary museums, we also discussed the role of North American anthropology and transdisciplinary Native American studies in Germany. Our diverse panel (student representative, experts from academia, and curators) offered a great opportunity to iterate concepts for new exhibitions and research projects.
Finally, from among the many topics presented in the poster exhibition, we picked “politics in Indian country” to analyze the implications of the 2020 US-Presidential election for Indigenous communities. We used the great detailed results map recently published by New York Times to show how many Native voters’ tendencies to vote Democrats outlines the borders of reservations on the map. Eventually, we spent some time to speculate what the new Biden administration, especially the nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland for the position of Secretary of the Interior, might mean for community interests such as resource development, environmental protection and climate change.
Book on US-War Narratives, Trauma, and Indigenous Military Traditions Now on Open Access
My second monograph, titled Ceremonial Storytelling: Ritual and Narrative in Post-9/11 US Wars, has been out since early 2019. A few days ago, the term of copyright restrictions has run out and, under the “green rule” of open access publishing, the book can now be accessed online and free of charge.
The book can be downloaded here:
Here is a quick abstract from the back cover:
“US society has controversially debated civil-military relationships and war trauma since the Vietnam War. Civic activists today promote Indigenous warrior traditions as role models for non-Native veteran reintegration and health care. They particularly stress the role of ritual and narrative for civil-military negotiations of war experience and for trauma therapy. Applying a cultural-comparative lens, this book reads non-Native soldiers’ and veterans’ life writing from post-9/11 wars as «ceremonial storytelling.» It analyzes activist academic texts, «milblogs» written in the war zone, as well as «homecoming scenarios.» Soldiers’ and veterans’ interactions with civilians constitute jointly constructed, narrative civic rituals that discuss the meaning of war experience and homecoming.”
The work largely follows a cultural-studies approach with forays into Indigenous studies, (new) media studies, and psychology, as well as tying in aspects of various fields of history. As such, it also reflects on the role of digital media for future historical research.
The book is organized into four major chapters: “Narrating War: Activist Discourse and Cultural Comparison” observes how segments of the US public, particularly veterans-affairs activists and mental health specialists, discuss veteran reintegration and war trauma from a community-oriented perspective, arguing that US society should learn from close-knit communities, to provide social support for veterans and trauma survivors. They often cite Native American military traditions, especially the fact that contemporary Indigenous veterans seem to have a better chance to cope with PTSD when undergoing traditional war-related ceremonies in their communities.
The following chapter, “Milblogs as Rituals: War, Citizenship, and the Sacred“, investigates how blogs written by non-Native soldiers from the combat zone can be understood as contemporary (secular) war rituals. It argues that the blogs’ audience actively participates to the blogs and, thus, that the sequencing of posts and comments denotes a civic ritual of discussing war experience in a public forum.
In the chapter “Beyond the Call of Duty: War Experience, Relationship-Building, and Community Service,” I argue that milbloggers understand their writing as an additional form of service to their communities (e.g., how-to advice for fellow and future soldiers, or a notion of “what it’s like out there” for civilians). The chapter discusses how such a sense of service can work as ‘help to help yourself’ and can therefore be seen as a form of working through, possibly even overcoming, traumatic experience.
The final chapter, “Singing their ‘Song’: Veterans, Civilians, and the Trials of Homecoming,” asks how veterans deal with war experience after their return. Only a few of the many soldiers who blogged from deployment continue to blog once back home. This chapter, therefore, looks into other forms of narrative self-expression, such as creative writing workshops, veteran lecture projects, documentaries, and theater. This chapter also goes beyond the many references to Native American war-related traditions that are currently used by activists and psychologists, and includes the popular references to classical Greek tragedy. Many of these ancient texts were written and performed by war veterans and detail the challenges of returning home from war. Reference to these classics has been a popular form of civic engagement and professional health care regarding veterans.
US Museum Tour 2019: Oklahoma
I have been touring a number of US museums in the last two weeks in order to prepare exhibits in Saxony, for networking, and for pleasure.
The first tour stop was Oklahoma. I returned to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at Oklahoma University in Norman. From my earlier visit, I remembered their vast collection of art on the American West. This section, based on the Eugene B. Adkins collection, combines non-Native American, Native American, and European representations of the West to explain its role in American history as an idea, a symbol, a story, and a sacred place. The collection contains paintings, basketry, pottery, and jewelry. Among the featured artists are Americans and Europeans from the Taos artist tradition, as well as Native American artists such as Fritz Scholder and Harry Fonseca.
I was also excited to learn about the tradition of brightly colored wood carvings of fantastic animals from Oaxaca, Mexico, the so-called ‘alebrijes,’ especially since our museum in Leipzig currently works on a special exhibition about mythical and fantastic animals throughout the world:
Particularly fascinating was the temporary exhibit “Misunderstood! Indigenous Art and Poetry as Political Resistance”. It featured political cartoons, poetry, drawings, and paintings. Topics ranged from the Red Power movement, representation and racist stereotypes, to contemporary politics.
I also took the chance to visit the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City. The 45th was a National Guard unit in the Southwest, formed in the 1920s. During World War II, it consisted of c. one third Native American soldiers. They landed in Italy in 1943, and again in southern France in August 1944, before moving through southwest Germany and liberating Dachau concentration camp and Munich in April 1945. The division then served in the Korean War and the early phases of Vietnam.
Notably, the unit at first used shoulder patches showing a yellow swastika on red to represent a pan-tribal spiritual symbol, abandoning its use to dissociate from Nazi symbolism in 1939, in favor of the Thunderbird, another pan-tribal symbol.
Two Native American soldiers, Ernest Childers (Muskogee/Creek) and Jack C. Montgomery (Cherokee), were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Italy campaign 1943. The 45th Infantry Division, or “Thunderbirds”, is a vivid example of the role of modern military service for self-determined and renewed military traditions and group identity among Native American communities.
Flagstaff Symposium Tackles Sensitive Issues: Comparing Genocide and Settler Colonialism in the Nazi East and the American West
Between 11-13 October, I was invited to a symposium titled “Colonial Conquest in the Nazi East and the American West” at Northern Arizona University’s Martin Springer Institute, Flagstaff. The symposium was part of a larger collaborative effort in comparative genocide studies that I had been introduced to during my lecture tour last fall.
I was invited to present my work on Nazi appropriations of German Indianthusiasm, a great opportunity to promote the recent monograph. Beyond my initial research focus, it was fascinating to touch base again with current work in military history of World War II, social science approaches to mass violence, and Native American studies. As the organizers put it aptly during the introduction to the event – the symposium strove to discuss benefits, concerns, and questions about bringing together vastly different topics and methodological approaches that often seem so self-contained that they might even be considered “disciplinary silos.”
Political considerations, sensibilities, and activist interests are a major concern that academics should take into account when discussing genocide, in this case, comparing the Holocaust and Nazi occupation in Poland and the Soviet Union with the settlement of the North American continent, when comparing the ideologies of Lebensraum im Osten (living space in the East) with Manifest Destiny and the horrendous effects these ideologies and their implementations had on affected peoples. Comparing these historical phenomena entails the danger of establishing “hierarchies of suffering” that would devalue the suffering of some victims of colonialism and mass atrocity, and grossly insult the memory of some survivors and descendants of victims. Being familiar with these activist perspectives both from public discourse and scholarship in postwar/post-reunification Germany, and from my work in Native American studies and my acquaintance with Indigenous political activists, I was excited about the debates. Fortunately, these political concerns caused all participants to approach this bringing together of, not only disciplinary silos but also political powder kegs, with great transdisciplinary and transcultural care and sensitivity,
In disciplinary terms, I was once more amazed how wide the field of Holocaust studies/ history of Nazi Germany and World War Two is―from my own work, I felt well-versed in the field of Nazi media and propaganda, especially regarding Indianthusiasm, and nationalist/völkisch/Nazi ideology. However, it can be daunting to learn about author’s names and case studies in―often only slightly different―fields of interest, all coming with their respective scholarly networks, debates, academic trenches, historiographical infighting, annual meetings, and the like.
What struck me in particular about the meeting was how differently the question of comparing the Nazi East and the American West can be approached, and how these approaches will produce vastly different, often contradictory results and representations of these results. The question of genocide in the Nazi East and the American West is not merely a matter of debating intent and effect. It must consider and distinguish between ideology, public discourse, corresponding formulations of state policy, propaganda (domestic and foreign), and finally, observations on how the policies were implemented on the micro-level: by state agents, i.e., local commanders who must strike a balance between directives and improvisation as required by the moment, and by non-state agents, i.e., settlers and settler militias. These micro-level perspectives often enough requires empirical case studies whose results might contradict any of the above criteria and make comparison and generalizations between the Nazi East and the American West exceedingly difficult.
One prime example might be the oft-cited references Hitler made to the Euro-American conquest of the West when discussing his plans for the Nazi East. We know about these references from documentations of his Table Talks and from his Second Book, but that does not automatically mean that the Nazis used the Frontier as a role model in their planning for the east, that they publicly promoted any such parallels in their propaganda, that they issued corresponding directives, or that local commanders and administrators made (or were made aware of) any such comparisons when implementing these policies on the ground.
I have seen a number of documents in which Nazi-era German cultural anthropologists discussed US-Indian policy, such as the detrimental effects of forced relocation during the Trail of Tears, and argued that future German colonies in Africa should thus avoid massive relocation and cultural imperialism directed at Indigenous peoples, but I cannot speak to whether or not there were actual plans to that effect in Africa. Neither can I speak to the impact such comparisons actually had on the plans for starvation and relocation of Slavic peoples in the Nazi East. I am looking forward to doing more research into German government documents on these issues one day, and am currently not aware of any previous―and detailed―works focusing on American role models for the Nazi East. Without detailed knowledge of such documents, plans, and directives, Hitler’s remarks on using America’s westward expansion as a role model for the Nazi East are of limited value, for the man had a lot to say about everything in his ramblings.
To use a more concrete example of the complexities of comparison from my own work, consider the contradictions between domestic and foreign propaganda: As Kenneth Townsend, Jere Franco and others have pointed out in their works, the Nazis operationalized US groups, such as the German American Bund, to attack the “Indian New Deal” as the Roosevelt Administration’s covert attempt to install Communism in America: the 1934 Wheeler-Howard Act, or Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), ended the policy of allotting tracts of land to individual Native families since the 1887 Dawes Act, reinstating communal ownership of land, and revoking some of the repressive measures against native religions and cultural practices. Communal ownership of land, in the arguments of the Nazi-sponsored German American Bund, symbolized Communist collectives and gulags.
Back in Germany, however, the Nazis hailed the IRA as the Americans’ (belated) acknowledgment of inherent racial idiosyncrasies: since all peoples, according to racial ideology, came with inherent group character traits determined by blood and by their natural environment (hence, blood-and-soil ideology), trying to impose alien culture on a group would inevitably lead to that group’s demise. The Nazis argued at home that Americans had finally stepped away from trying to turn ‘Indians’ (who, supposedly, must roam, hunt, or ranch livestock by virtue of their biological heritage) into yeoman farmers, because this practice of cultural imperialism destroyed their culture and peoplehood. US-Indian policy in this regard was praised as good because it acknowledged racial difference and (seemingly) supported racial segregation, which the Nazis quickly exploited to ‘prove’ their own Nuremberg laws on racial segregation as necessary and ‘natural’ measures (i.e., the exclusion of Jews and other unwanted groups from the ‘community of the people’).
So, the same legal measures of the IRA were denounced as Communist in the US and praised as benevolent, racially sensible protection of peoplehood at home. In many other aspects, the comparison of the Nazi East and the American West raised more questions than it helps answer. Still, the symposium did great work to address the complexities and pitfalls and thus helped to develop more meaningful comparative approaches to genocide.
Lecture on Milblogs in Omaha and Research on Veteran Organizations in St. Louis
A few days ago on 3rd December, I have held my last lecture on this trip. While the earlier lectures discussed my work on German perceptions of Native American cultures and promoted the forthcoming book, this talk presented some of my current work on deployed soldiers’ milblogs. This guest lecture was hosted by University of Nebraska, Omaha’s English Department and the Office of Military and Veteran services.
I met Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier, who invited me to Omaha, during his Fulbright year at American Studies Leipzig in 2007. Since then, we have kept in close contact and frequently worked together. Omaha is very dear to me, for the friends and colleagues I know here but also because this is where I held my first lecture when my dissertation project took shape in 2007.
Last week’s lecture provided an overview of the interdisciplinary methodology of the project and contextualized Native American military traditions before launching into a close reading of an American soldier’s milblog from Afghanistan. I pointed out different elements of ceremonial storytelling in the interaction between deployed soldiers and civilian audience. Some of these textual elements led back to the presentation on “tribute and memorial posts” I held at the 2014 ASA convention in Los Angeles. Similar to my reflections on the longue dureé in Indianthusiasm for teaching due to the lectures on Nazis and the GDR that I held over the course of only one weekend in Oklahoma in late October, this lecture helped me approach the topic of death and mourning in milblogs from different angles, discuss it with a diverse audience, and thus extend the scope of my work from the ASA presentation in early November. This widened perspective will help me tackle another chapter of the blog project in the coming year.
Apart from the academic values gained from this final lecture, it was fascinating to observe the environment in which the event took place. The lecture was held at UNO’s Community Engagement Center, a brand-new building dedicated to community outreach. The audience was thus both “gown” and “town,” comprised of students of both English and Native studies courses, veterans, and members of the Omaha community. As my colleagues told me, UNO was recently rated the best four-year college in veteran services by the Military Times. It was thus particularly interesting to observe and discuss veterans’ affairs at this institution. This also brought back discussions and observations from last year’s conferences at UC Santa Barbara and Copenhagen where many discussions and presentations centered around the question of college veteran services, student veterans, and the role of the humanities in veteran reintegration.
Similar questions recurred during the last few days when I met with colleagues and representatives of veteran groups, such as The Mission Continues. The Mission Continues has recently become one of the best-known veteran support groups. They focus on community service and volunteerism as its founders have realized that many veterans are eager to continue serving and that volunteerism, i.e., helping others, helps veterans to help themselves in their efforts to reintegrate into civil society. I became interested in groups like TMC when looking at the warrior philosophy of Native American military traditions and their strong focus on ceremonialism, community relationships, and mutual aid. Native studies scholars argue that “warriorhood” is anchored in perpetual community relationships, while “soldiering” in the ‘Western’ sense is more perceived as playing a social role. The community engagement of The Mission Continues reminds me of relationships in changing tasks (from fighting to, say, charity or care-giving) known from native warrior philosophy.
Since both Native scholars and military psychologists have argued that ceremonialism and community relationships might support the reintegration of non-Native veterans and could play a role in working through their traumatic experiences, I have begun looking beyond milblogs to find other non-Native efforts to implement community and ceremony in my research during this year. The Mission Continues is a very good example for such efforts. Getting together with TMC representatives as well as social sciences scholars from Washington University and Lindenwood University in the St. Louis area helped me explore these veteran groups’ efforts. Their information and advise provided valuable social science perspectives for my project. I will continue to look into this and similar projects, although they are not deployed soldiers’ narratives, to look for ceremonialism and community interaction as ingredients for reintegration.
“Defending the Homeland”: Lecture on Nazi Representations of Native Americans for First-Year Students at San Francisco State University
On 12 November, I was invited to hold a guest lecture in a 150 course on American Indian History in the United States at the American Indian Studies program at SFSU. Dr. Robert K. Collins asked me to share my research on Indian imagery in German nationalist thinking and Nazi ideology with his students. The class was about sixty students strong, with another sixty enrolled online. It was a welcome opportunity to present my work in a teaching environment – most of the classes on Native history I have taught did not cover my dissertation topic, and most of my earlier presentations on the dissertation research were given to an audience of scholars or advanced and graduate students.
I explained the elements of Indian imagery in Germany: the trope of the noble savage (e.g., attributing character traits to self and other, understanding Native peoples as “children of nature” as well as natural-born warriors), and the corresponding notions of a German-Native fellowship that was constructed via a triangular reference between modern Germans, contemporary Native Americans, and ancient Germanic tribes. This entailed a discussion of the recurring fellow tribesmen and common enemy motifs feeding these references. The latter part of the talk explored how the Nazis exploited this traditional perception of Germans and Native Americans as “soul mates” for anti-American propaganda.
The most common reaction from American audiences to my presentations on this topic is utter bewilderment over the bizarre claims with which Germans constructed their alleged fellowship with Native Americans. What struck me as especially exciting during this discussion at SFSU, however, was the way the students applied the lecture’s case examples for comparative applications of “doing history,” as James Loewen calls it in his works on teaching historiography.
Some wondered if, since Germans developed such constructions of fellowship with Native Americans, other Europeans came up with similar constructions? This question immediately touches upon the debate in how far German Indianthusiasm is unique in Europe, as Germans liked to believe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Christian Feest, for instance, says it isn’t unique at all. In his “Germany’s Indians in a European Perspective,” he argues that Germans have this prominent position because observers of European perceptions of Native peoples keep coming back to Karl May and other German sources, while French, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Italian sources and perceptions are right there in the open, they simply are being ignored too often (he also argues that German is a very prominent European language and Germans ranked among the largest immigrant groups, all of which would give them prominence in the perception of relations with North America).
Another student asked whether there was a difference in cultural appropriation and representation between German and American Wild West shows – a great observation of comparative thinking in historical research that might lead to interesting research questions and class discussions about different cultural contexts, perceptions, audience expectations, and cultural practices.
This presentation for an audience of beginning students of (Native) American history thus invited more thorough deliberations on ways and means of teaching, on how to guide students towards applying historical data for follow-up questions, to help them develop research interests, and on critical contextualization. It will be exciting to compare this class discussion with future presentations’ Q/A sessions on this trip and beyond, both among first-year students, graduates, and the general public, and to implement questions deriving from these sessions for future course designs.
German Nationalists, Communists, and Indian Hobbyists Discussed at the University of Oklahoma
This is the first post in a series (hopefully) about my current research and lecture tour through California and the American West and Southwest. The main occasion to spend time in the US was the 2014 American Studies Association’s annual meeting in Los Angeles, which I will cover in the next post. This tour will serve to promote my forthcoming book on the representation of Native American imagery in Nazi ideology and propaganda, and to do research on current projects.
I started this trip at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where I met colleagues in Native studies as well as American and German studies. At OU, I gave two lectures. The first was held at the English Department on 31 October and was titled “Fellow Tribesmen. Perceptions of Indigeneity in German Nationalism and Nazi Ideology.” It emphasized the role of Indianthusiasm in German intellectual history and emerging nationalism. The colleagues in the audience were particularly interested in comparing the perception and representation of Jews and Native Americans in German nationalism and Nazi ideology. I also had the opportunity to engage in discussions about Thomas Mann’s gloomy 1918 perspective of World War I as an onslaught of imperialist international civilization against German culture, and his eventual break with nationalism during the ascent of the Nazi movement. These debates brought home once more the binary oppositions of (German) culture versus (Western/international) civilization of which German nationalists were so fond and which lent themselves to a German nationalist understanding as the “soul mates” of Native Americans.
In the second presentation, “Brothers in the Struggle against Imperialism,” I focused on Indianthusiasm during the GDR. The talk was held on 3 November and organized by the German Department and the College of International Studies and served as part of OU’s special series commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I drew from Glenn Penny’s recent book Kindred by Choice to discuss the roles of Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich and the GDR state film company DEFA’s series of “Indianerfilme” (sometimes called “Eastern Westerns” or even “Osterns”) in presenting contemporary Native American cultures and their struggle for sovereignty in relation to East German Indian hobbyism.
Giving these two presentations quasi back-to-back, the longue durée of Indianthusiasm emphasized by Penny became very prominent. Especially so since major ideas, such as anti-Americanism, the German inferiority complex, or the longing for communality among modern Germans, were present in both talks and discussions but individually highlighted the respective Nazi and Communist perspectives, arguments, and examples. This turned out to be a very interesting comparative experiment that should prove fruitful for teaching German perspectives of (Native) America in the future.