AHA Member Spotlight: Laurie Arnold
Laurie Arnold is director of Native American studies and associate professor of history at Gonzaga University. She lives in Spokane, Washington, and has been a member since 2001.
Alma maters: BA, Oregon State University; PhD, Arizona State University
Fields of interest: Native American, 20th century, cultural
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I enjoyed a winding road of various kinds of jobs before enrolling in graduate school. Once I completed my PhD, I went first into a nonprofit institution and then into university administration. I was not ready to enter the tenure track until I saw the ad for my current job, an ideal mix of teaching and administration where I get to plan strategically for the future while still spending time with students in the classroom. The opportunity to build a program that reinforces the significance, resilience, and longevity of Native peoples in this place, the Indigenous Columbia Plateau, was the impetus that drew me to a faculty position.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? Gonzaga University is growing fast but it is still small enough that it is possible to at least be acquainted with most of my faculty peers. In part, this is due to the focus on undergraduate teaching and to the social justice mission of the university, both of which bring faculty together.
What projects are you currently working on? My new book project, Native American Cultural Activism: From Sarah Winnemucca to Twenty-First Century Drama, considers the work of three early Native women authors and performers side-by-side with contemporary Native playwrights, to reveal continuity across generations of women working for and from their communities.
Scholarship on Native American activism focuses primarily on urban-led political activism, represented almost exclusively by male perspectives. I interpret activism more broadly and weigh cultural activism (including community and tribal efforts toward language preservation, material culture practice, storytelling, and indigenous foods restoration) as equal in importance. Native American Cultural Activism thus makes significant interventions in the fields of Native American, US, and women’s history: activism occurred within reservation communities for more than a century prior to the 1960s Red Power movements and has continued in an unbroken chain into the present. In short, this project illuminates the substantial and continuous activism Native women have performed.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? In the Edward E. Ayer Collection at the Newberry Library, in a journal written by a Colville Indian Agent (on the Colville Reservation in Washington State), I found several entries about my great-grandfather. Initially the agent was thrilled and recorded his personal triumphs in converting my great-grandfather into a farmer because my great-grandfather had visited the agent again and again to procure additional implements such as hoes and shovels. Alas, after a few weeks, the agent discovered my great-grandfather was bartering those items for things of greater use to him, rather than using them to cultivate crops on his rocky land. Among other things, this example illustrates how the people charged with “managing” Native Americans had little context to do so, especially when we factor in the absence of place-based knowledge.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? The vastness of excellent historical scholarship prevents me from making just one recommendation so instead I will share a favorite work of fiction. At some point during my last year of college, I pulled Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler from a haphazard thrift store shelf. What reader could resist being led into a story about reading, about the satisfaction (and anxiety) of going to a book store and choosing one book while walking away from others, about finding the perfect spot for reading? I am still delighted by the playful mix of genres and by the tale of a book bringing two readers together.
What do you value most about the history discipline? The ongoing process of discovery. In a personal context, it is amazing to find documents written by fellow Colville tribal members in the 1890s, 1930s, or 1970s and know those families are still working on behalf of our community today. Professionally, working at microhistory levels informs my comprehension of broader historical interpretation. Before I can understand the history of the American West, for example, I need to encounter the diverse communities of people who lived in the West.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? I appreciate the practices of advocacy AHA leaders and the executive director engage in on behalf of historians, the discipline and practice of history, and the humanities as a whole.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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