As promised, my thread regarding Daniel Feller's plenary at yesterday's #SHEAR2020 virtual conference. I preface this by saying I am not a member of SHEAR and though several friends have urged me to go, I've never been. 1/
Most of my work in the last three years has been in the sixteenth century, for which SHEAR is not really an appropriate venue! Nevertheless: I trained as an early Americanist, teach the US to 1865, and I teach about Andrew Jackson. 2/
Additionally, over the last several years I have been building some expertise in Native American and Indigenous histories. So on these counts I'll be commenting. 3/
Feller opened with comments on Trump and Jackson, with the implication that attaching AJ to Trump was distorting AJ and his context. I was willing to go along with the premise until Feller insisted that AJ's record on Native people was not as bad as we think. 4/
Feller characterized current historical understanding of AJ's approach to Native peoples as "untethered from reality" and critiqued a NYT report that said AJ "annihilated" Native people, which he claimed was an exaggeration. 5/
Apparently Feller prefers to think of Indian Removal as an "eviction" (I believe that is the term he used). This to me is nothing less than a minimization, and even outright denial, of genocidal US policies towards Native people. 6/
What was Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend) but an "annihilation?" Jackson and his troops slaughtered 1000 Red Stick Creeks--men, women, and children. AJ rose to national prominence on a pile of Native bodies. He began his career with annihilation. 7/
Trying to soften that, and other, later Jacksonian actions as an "eviction" is absolutely a denial of genocidal policies. This isn't to say that AJ was uniquely responsible for US policy. 8/
We can look at US actions in the Old NW, leading to and from the Greenville Treaty in 1795, as both acts of annihilation and of removal. 9/
As far as I am concerned, "Indian Removal" began in 1492 and continues to the present day (up to and including Trump's rescission of the Mashpee Wampanoags' reservation, for ex, or the placing of pipelines over Native land). 10/
My differences with Feller here are more than just semantics: he wants to excuse AJ's actions. He is looking to present AJ in an exculpatory light. 11/
The primary source evidence regarding AJ's actions in particular and US policy in general do not support Feller's argument. 12/
Moreover, I would argue strongly that attempting to distort this past in order to protect AJ ignores the moral imperative historians have to see the extreme violence of our past. 13/
One piece of exculpatory evidence Feller advanced was Jackson's adoption of a young Native boy named Lyncoya. 14/
I'm going to pause and spend some time here, because so much of what happened yesterday hinges on how we think about Lyncoya. 15/
Jackson brought Lyncoya to his home after the Creek war, when Lyncoya had been found clinging to his slaughtered mother's corpse. Jackson referred to Lyncoya as his "pet" and groomed the boy to attend West Point. 16/
Feller wants us to believe that this showed that Jackson had no racial animus towards Native people, and treated Lyncoya like his own son. In the Q&A viewers rightly asked, why didn't Feller call this slavery? 17/
Feller scoffed at this, and was, in my opinion, extremely dismissive of this question. It is clear that Feller is utterly ignorant of the large and growing historiography on Native enslavement, and frankly, his contempt for his fellow scholars here was inexcusable. 18/
Let's bring the good professor to school, shall we? Feller's reading should begin with James Brooks's Captives and Cousins, and Alan Gallay's The Indian Slave Trade. Both of these books are from 2002 so Feller has had plenty of time to read them. 19/
They show the ubiquity of the trade in enslaved Native people across the North American sunbelt. Moreover: there's been so much great followup work. 20/
Michelene Pessantubbee's work shows the impact of the trade in Native slaves on Choctaws in particular. Robbie Ethridge's work shows the impact on Chickasaws. My colleague Liz Ellis's forthcoming work shows a secondary, French-led trade in enslaved Natives around New Orleans. 21/
What does this have to do with Lyncoya, you ask? Well, European slave traders targeted Native children. As my former student Hayley Negrin (now at UIC) shows in her dissertation, English slave traders particularly wanted to break matrilineal lineages. 22/
Enslaving Native people and raising Native children on plantations was a crucial part of English colonialism. Targeting Native children for labor exploitation was also a known means of destroying Native civilizations. 23/
The English did this in particular, both through slaving and through educational practices that were meant to force assimilation. Lyncoya's life (and death) are part of this long history. 24/
Moreover, another of my students, Andrew Johnson, has shown that the trade in Native slaves persisted past Gallay's endpoint of 1717 (the end-ish of the Yamasee War). Johnson finds enslaved Natives into the 1750s on SC plantations. 25/
It's not outside the realm of possibility that AJ would have been aware of enslaved Natives when he was a boy. 26/
The panel yesterday seemed to think enslavement is only about labor. That's an old-fashioned understanding of what slavery is and what it does. It is about labor, yes, but it also about the systems of surveillance and control that subordinate and exploit subjugated peoples. 27/
What was Lyncoya's labor at the Hermitage? His labor was to perform AJ's munificence and generosity by being quietly assimilated, molded to demonstrate AJ's ambitions and actions. 28/
Regardless of whether or not AJ considered Lyncoya a slave, Lyncoya was a prisoner on that plantation whose existence was solely about propping up AJ's vision of himself. 29/
Lyncoya, in short, was a demonstration of Andrew Jackson's "wealth in people." He tried to run away multiple times, unsurprisingly. 30/
During Feller's presentation I was powerfully reminded of an enslaved Native man testifying before the Spanish in 1570. He recalled being snatched from his mother's arms by a slaver. 31/
He could not remember his name, he could not remember his language, but he remembered that moment of trauma. It's hard to imagine that Lyncoya did not have some sense of this same loss. 32/
Scholars of Native North America draw long connections from slaving, to removal, to residential schools, to the current effort to gut the Indian Child Welfare Act. /33
Lyncoya, imho, embodied the traumas of slaving, of removal, of broken treaties, of Indigenous incarceration, of forced assimilationist education, of genocide. 35/
Feller's inability to see this shows the poverty of his approach, one that refuses engagement with important new scholarship in history and in NAIS. More on that in a minute, but let's deal with the "pet" business. /36
Feller insists that because AJ referred to Lyncoya as his "pet" and because AJ referred to his granddaughter Rachel as his pet as well, that that naming isn't about racial animus. /37
In his "analysis" of the word "pet," Feller belittles and mocks the scholarship of Dawn Peterson and Laurel Clark Shire. He does not even bother to mention Christina Snyder's work. 38/
Leaving aside the obvious misogyny of Feller's attacks here, Feller begs us to "attend to the context" of AJ's remarks. Ok, Professor Feller, let's attend to that context, since you are obviously ignorant of it. 39/
Words in Indigenous languages about slaves and slaving revolve around words for domesticated animals. /40
Brett Rushforth is particularly good about this in his 2012 book Bonds of Alliance. Pay attention to the chapter entitled "I will make him my slave." /41
Moreover: in several Native societies, enslaved people were referred to as "pets." Fernando Santos-Granero outlines the linguistic slippage between words meaning "captive" "slave" "pet" and even "adoptive child." /42
Using the word "pet" for Lyncoya fits into this long, contextual history (see? CONTEXT) of dehumanizing Native captives. Europeans adopted some of this language. /43
We cannot see AJ's use of the word pet to describe Lyncoya outside of this complex context. Lyncoya was subordinated and dependent inn a way very different from Rachel. /44
Lyncoya came from a context where his mother had been slaughtered, if not by Jackson personally, then by a man under his command. "Pet" means something very different with that background. /45
Feller cannot see this because he is trapped in a fictitious and fully fantasized vision of AJ as the kind-hearted slaver and slaveholder pushing sugar water into the mouth of a boy he orphaned. /46
So yes, Feller, attend to THIS context, and you owe Dawn Peterson, Laurel Clark Shire, and Christina Snyder apologies for not engaging with their work in the way they and their work deserve. /47
Let's then discuss, shall we, Feller's obvious and well-developed contempt for his colleagues. He opened his plenary with a condemnation of the work of Walter Russell Mead. /48
I don't know Mead at all, but is seems to me that Feller used Mead as a strawman and as a means of attacking other scholars who write for popular audiences. /49
He reserved a lot of his vitriol for Joyce Chaplin, whom he accused of "fantasizing Jackson" on issues of public health. He attacked her WaPo piece twice--once in the session and then again, not by name, in the Q&A. /50
Professor Chaplin can certainly speak for herself (and she did, yesterday, when she pointed out on Twitter that Feller obviously is not familiar with Charles Rosenberg's work). But this is Feller's pattern. /51
Feller repeatedly called out scholars, mostly women, and mostly junior to him, with whom he disagrees, mostly because he seems to feel they don't respect AJ. Many of these call-outs he kept anonymous. /52
He complained again in the Q&A about an editorial writer he refused to name (possibly Chaplin again? another theory on twitter was that he was referring to Jeff Ostler) and he excoriated more scholars he refused to name for not accepting his help in properly understanding AJ. /53
This isn't how scholars behave towards one another. Feller's coy utterances were meant as inside jokes, a form of performative masculinity meant to silence junior scholars, and esp. junior women and scholars of color. /54
Of course scholars are sometimes rude to one another, but I am shocked that #SHEAR2020 gave a single person a platform from which to make these pronouncements. /55
Lastly, and I am now coming to the end of this mammoth thread: I had to get off the presentation before it ended to prepare for another call. /56
But my phone blew up with DMs and texts from colleagues still watching, that Feller repeatedly used the racial slur r*dskin. This is so unnacceptable. /57
And it immediately makes clear why Feller makes so many misguided and indefensible arguments about AJ. Feller showed his contempt for Native people, Native histories, and Native scholars. /58
SHEAR needs now to think about how it will address the harms done yesterday from this entire presentation from its distortion of the historiography, its distortion of evidence, its display of animosity & contempt for the work of many scholars but esp the junior women he cited /59
Perhaps SHEAR 2021 can convene a plenary of Native and non-Native scholars to do a state of the field for Indigenous histories in the early Republic. /60
I almost hate suggesting this because this will push more labor, and indeed reparative labor, on those who are most beleaguered and overworked in the academy. /61
But there it is: we all have to scramble to clean up the mess once again left behind by a scholar who abused his platform. /fin
You can follow @historianess.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: