Wednesday, March 28, 2007

HUM 221: Research paper topics

We're going to have two papers in Humanities 221 this spring. Each will be about five pages in length, although you can go longer if you want to.

The first will be a reaction paper or response paper to a poem or other piece of creative writing that I will assign you in the next few days. In it you will do three things: (1) write about the circumstances in which you read the work of literature; (2) give some background on the work and its cultural milieu; and (3) analyze your response to the work and what specifically in the work caused you to feel that way about it.

The second will be a five- to eight-page research project. You can take an artist (a term I use to include artists, writers, musicians and anybody else who is "doing" art), a work of art, a genre (like totem poles for example) or the way a historical theme like the Trail of Tears is reflected in the arts. I would urge you to use the same general outline -- i.e. circumstances, background and analysis -- that you did in the response paper. It is due in class Friday, April 20.

One last written project: Our final exam will be in class the last day of classes, Monday, April 30. If you have a solid A in the course, you don't have to take the final.

Here is a link to some suggestions I made last year for papers in HUM 221. (Scroll down till you get to February 2006. Be patient and keep scrolling -- the first post you see on the new page will be this one, followed by something about an ice storm back in the fall. The blogposts you want will be toward the bottom and they'll have something about HUM 221 term papers in the headline.) They'll work just as well again this year.

Pozole luterano (Lutheran potluck posole)

Posted here to the blog so I won't forget it is a recipe for what I like to call "Lutheran Potluck Posole" and Pastor Jon Berg of Springfield's Atonement Lutheran Church calls "Taco Soup." His name is no doubt more accurate (especially since it's his recipe), but I like mine because the recipe does taste a lot like authentic New Mexico posole.

Here's the ingredients:
  • Hominy (pozole in Spanish, whence the name), a can
  • Ground beef, a pound or so
  • Beans, a can or two (red, black and/or pinto)
  • Tomato, a can
  • Chopped onion
  • Hidden Valley ranch dressing, a dry packet
  • Taco seasoning
  • Garlic and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a slow cooker, and turn on the power switch. Easy enough? Like any other soup or stew, the longer you let it cook the better it will taste.

If you're looking for something more authentic, there are several good recipes on the World Wide Web. Do Google keyword searches on both "posole" and "pozole," the Spanish spelling. Posole is a traditional Mexican food with a long history. It is traditionally served during the holidays.

Monday, March 26, 2007

HUM 221: Quiz on Gogisgi

Please answer these questions ... post them as comments to this blogpost.

1. How did Gogisgi get his name? What does it mean?

2. How is his life story typical of what you'd expect for an American Indian? How is it different?

3. What surprised you about the reading?

We will read some of Gogisgi's poetry in class today. Be ready to compare and contrast to: (1) the traditional Cherokee stories we looked at Friday; and (2) the poems in Native American Songs and Poems, edited by Brian Swann, that I asked you to bring to class today.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

HUM 221: Introductory links, Cherokee stories

We'll start the second half of the semester by studying the Cherokee people. Several of you said on your midterms you have Cherokee Indians among your ancestors and/or you're just interested in learning more about them.

The Cherokee are important for several reasons. More than most Indian nations, they adapted to the white man's culture as early as the 1830s. After they were removed from their ancesteral home in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia to Oklahoma, they continued to assimilate their culture to white norms. Did you know, for example, the first college for women west of the Mississippi River was founded by Cherokee Indians? It is now Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tallequah.

In the beginning ...

Most standard histories will tell you the Cherokee are a branch of the Iroquoian family of nations, that they probably migrated south from the same general area occupied in historic times by the Iroquois Confederation, perhaps farther west, and that their culture at the time of contact with white explorers (Hernando de Soto in the 1540s) was Mississippean. That means it was similar to that of the Cahokia mounds in Illinois.

This is all true, but it's not the way the Cherokee tell their history.

Let's start with the best source(s). The federally recognized Cherokee Indian tribal governments both have collections of stories, myths and legends on their websites. Read a creation myth told by traditional Cherokee people in Oklahoma. Does anything in it remind you of other stories of how the world was created? Compare it to the creation myth told by Cherokee people in North Carolina, whose ancestors hid in the mountains and weren't removed on the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Nation has an extensive collection of traditional stories. In addition, the Eastern Band Cherokee have collected several as well.

Some more sources (good to remember since you have term papers coming up). If you want to know more about Cherokee beliefs, a valuable resource is the summary of Cherokee religion in the Overview of World Religions maintained by St. Martin's College in England. It's kind of dry, but very, very factual. By the way, St. Martin's also has links to similar overviews of Inuit (Eskimo), Choctaw, Navajo, Hopi, Blackfeet, Cheyenne and Sioux religion, as well as the Native American Church.

If you're interested in stories of how the world was made, there's a very complete set of links on the website. Check out how many of them involve a great flood. How many bells do these stories ring?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

HUM 221: Commodification, expropriation

Two key concepts in our study of Native American cultural expression this semester are commodification and expropriation.

Of the two, commodification is the easier to define. It means just about what you'd expect it to by analyzing the word roots: It's making a commodity out of something, turning it into something that can be bought and sold. If you get great-grandma's old butter churn down out of the attic and sell it to an antique dealer, you're commodifying it. To some degree, it's inevitable in a market ecomomy. It can get to be a problem, however, if the buyer isn't sensitive to -- or aware of -- its original use. Or when religious values hold that some things shouldn't be sold. Some Iroquois masks, for example, are used only in healing rituals. To offer them for sale would violate Iroquois spiritual and religious traditions. (The word also applies to espresso stands, apparently. Follow this link to see how Starbucks "commoditizes" its retail outlets, at least according to one company exec.)

Expropriation is a little tricker. Basically, it means taking an art form out of its original culture. If a homeowner from Chicago buys great-grandma's butter churn and turns it into a lamp stand, for example, he's expropriating the art form -- turning it into something different. If a white college gymnast performs American Indian dances as halftime entertainment an athletic event, he's expropriating them and turning them into something different by removing them from their culture. Like commodification, some degree of expropriation is inevitable in a free market society. Elvis Pressley and Emimem both made music history by expropriating African American art forms. Again, however, it can be controversial.

Here's a passage from Chicago gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's autobiography that shows a common reaction to expropriation and commodification by more traditional artists.
One evening not long ago I was in New York City doing some shopping. As I walked down a street in Greenwich Village where I like to go look for peieces of ebony statuary, I suddenly heard this singing with a gospel beat.

I looked in the door of a nightclub and there was a Negro girl with her hair bleached red-blond swinging a gospel song that I had first heard as a little girl in a Holiness Church in New Orleans. The place was packed with white people who were laughing and eating and drinking and hand-clapping. Barteners were beating out the rhythm of the song on church tambourines and waitresses were even using tambourines as trays to serve drinks!

It was a sight and made me so sad and so sick that I'll never forget it. The dignity of a colored church and of all religion was being debased so that a few people soulc make some fast money.

When they take gospel singing into nightclubs and put out "pop gospel" records, they are blaspheming against the Holy Ghost. I make two kinds of gospel song records -- one for Negroes who like to tap their feet, and one for those who like religious songs sung to them. But I would never sing a song to be laughed at or to help sell a bottle of whiskey! (105-08).
Not everyone would agree with Mahalia Jackson here. In fact, some evangelists prefer to go out in the world to spread their message. But her attitude is common, and I think it has to be respected.

At the same time, I have to wonder about those ebony statues Jackson was shopping for in Greenwich Village. They sound to me like an African art form; if they were, and they were on sale in New York, there had to be some expropriation and commodification going on. Maybe the key to it, all way around, is respect.

Works Cited
Jackson, Mahalia, and Evan McLeod Wylie. Movin' on Up. New York: Hawthorn, 1966.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Black Hawk War -- your questions

Please post your answers as comments to this blog ...

1. Were there any preconceptions, stereotypes or just plain wrong ideas the Indians had about the whites that helped lead to the conflict?

2. Were there any preconceptions, stereotypes or just plain wrong ideas the whites had about the Indians that helped lead to the conflict?

3. Were Was there any point where someone could have headed off the fighting? Who? When? Why? What could they have done or said to do so?