The first week addresses the period from before European contact to the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Discussion topics for the week include:

  • Indigenous peoples of New England during the pre- and early contact period
  • The critical era between the “Great Migration” of English settlers (1630-42) through King Philip’s War (1675-76) and its aftermath
  • The Anglo-French rivalry that erupted into war in 1689, with a focus on the 1704 raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts.

The first day will begin with self-introductions by core faculty and NEH Summer Scholars.

Co-directors Neal Salisbury and Alice Nash will then give an overview of the content and format of the Institute, and teacher-facilitator Peter Gunn will explain the curricular projects that each Scholar will complete by the end of the three weeks.

To highlight the interconnection between “history” and the contemporary concerns of Native American communities in New England, we will watch We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân, an award-winning film about the Wampanoag (Wôpanâak) of southeastern Massachusetts who draw on seventeenth-century sources to learn their language today. This program, called the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, was founded and directed by MacArthur Foundation Fellow Jessie Little Doe Baird, who will join us on July 25.

Neal Salisbury will discuss pre-contact Indians and their earliest interactions with Europeans with particular attention to New England through the 1620s.

Lisa Brooks will lead a discussion centered on Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative. She will draw on Rowlandson’s narrative to examine the social and geographic networks of Native people encountered by Rowlandson, particularly Weetamoo, a female sachem, and James Printer, a Christian Nipmuc whose story is intertwined with Rowlandson’s narrative.

Kevin Sweeney will discuss the multiple contexts of the 1704 raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, including the backgrounds and motives of French, English, Mohawk, Abenaki and Huron-Wendat participants in the raid and the diverse fates of most of the 112 English captives. 

One full day will be devoted to visiting Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that re-creates a Wampanoag homesite and the nearby English village of Plimoth circa 1627.

After visiting the Pilgrim village, where we will observe and interact with historically trained re-enactors, and the Wampanoag homesite, which uses interpreters rather than re-enactors (for reasons that will be discussed), we will meet with museum staff to discuss the challenges of interpreting bi-cultural history for school groups and the general public. 


The second week will focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examining the choices made by Indian peoples in New England during a period when they seem to vanish from most history books.

Discussion topics for the week include:

  • Indian Christianity, as Native peoples responded to both Protestant and Catholic missionary efforts in New England
  • Land, sovereignty, and race; the changing landscape of work and subsistence strategies
  • Governmental policies toward Indians in New England and at the federal level, including the Indian Trade and Non-Intercourse Act (1790), the Indian Removal Act (1830) and the General Allotment (or Dawes) Act (1887).

Linford Fisher will discuss how non-Christian Natives were drawn to evangelical Protestantism and subsequently redefined it on their own terms, using it as a vehicle for criticizing and resisting Anglo-American Protestant authorities.

Amy Den Ouden will discuss the extensive dispossession of Mohegans and Pequots during the eighteenth century, increasingly justified in terms of race, and the means that these Natives employed to assert their sovereignty and tribal identities.

Nancy Shoemaker will discuss her current work on Native Americans in New England’s whaling industry, including their encounters with Maori and other indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

Jean O’Brien will discuss how local history books and museums crafted a regional narrative in which Indians disappear or die out, to be replaced by a series of “firsts” (people and institutions) that erase the continuing presence of indigenous peoples.

During the week we will visit two museums.

At the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (MPMRC) in Mashantucket, Connecticut, NEH Summer Scholars will tour the museum exhibits, which move in chronological sequence from the Ice Age to the present, and meet with an MPMRC educator for a special tour of the newest permanent exhibit, Pequot Lives: Almost Vanished, which explores the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As an afternoon trip, we will visit Memorial Hall, the museum of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Founded by local residents in 1870 to memorialize the “Deerfield Massacre” of 1704, the museum a decade ago revised – to great controversy – its installations in the “Memorial” and “Indian” rooms.

Together, these museums raise vital questions of interpretation, representation, and the “ownership” of history. 

Week 3

The third week connects present-day issues to the historical contexts addressed in this Institute.

Discussion topics for the week include:

  • The emergence of pan-Indian organizations and activism at the federal and New England regional levels as responses to the continuing assimilationist policies of the late nineteenth century
  • Federal efforts to terminate recognition of tribes after World War II and the subsequent shift, responding in part to militant Native activism, toward promoting tribal “self-determination."
  • Federal recognition
  • Repatriation
  • Language revitalization.

Margaret Bruchac will discuss her current research on relations between Native Americans and anthropologists in the twentieth century, especially between Frank Speck (1881-1950) and Mohegan anthropologist Gladys Tantaquidgeon (1899-2005).

Kathleen Brown-Pérez, Esq. will narrate a brief history of her tribe (Brothertown), from its origins in New England to its present-day location in Wisconsin, and talk about her experience as the tribe’s legal counsel during its unsuccessful bid for Federal Acknowledgement.

Rae Gould will explain the importance of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a Federal law passed in 1990, and considerations that make it difficult to implement.

Together, these presentations emphasize the complex legal terrain that must be constantly navigated by indigenous peoples and the ways in which historical (mis)understandings affect their lives every day.

The final Institute speaker will be Jessie Little Doe Baird, Director of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, whose work we learned about on the first day of Week 1. Baird will talk about the importance of language and history in her community of Mashpee, and offer examples of what she has learned about her ancestors from their writings.

The NEH Summer Institute will conclude with a talking circle where NEH Summer Scholars will summarize their curricular projects and discuss what they have learned over the preceding three weeks.