Beyond the Spectacle seeks to update and reconfigure the existing scholarship on the Native North American presence in Britain. It is therefore part of a growing trend which shows a move away from an oversimplified romantic fascination with ‘American Indians’ and which seeks to avoid ‘broad brushstrokes’ and the preference of generalisations over nuance.
In addition, previous studies of Native North Americans in Britain have tended to suffer from shortcomings – they have been London-centric, uninterested in matters of cultural legacy, and with a limited timeframe that often ends in the first quarter of the twentieth century. This project will redress these imbalances by broadening the focus to the entirety of Britain (and actively looking for local and regional connections), focusing on cultural legacy as a key indicator of the real impact of Native travel, and by embracing a much more open timeline, which extends throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
Therefore, while this research has a strong historical element, it is also deeply concerned with contemporary issues, particularly in terms of legacy and continuing impact. On the whole, this project will examine how the presence of Native North Americans in Britain – as transient figures and settled residents, as artists, makers, writers, commentators and as advocates of social and political change – was understood in both British and Native communities. This genuinely transatlantic approach will generate an honest and nuanced understanding of historical moments and relationships, of Native diaspora, and of ongoing cultural and historical recovery.
These innovative concepts will be complimented by a fresh methodological approach too, which will not only utilise a wide range of diverse sources but will also generate a more varied set of outputs, including an online interactive map which will serve to collate and contextualise individual accounts of Native North American presence in Britain in a resource which will be of use to scholars from many disciplines for years to come.
Within this broader framework, each team member will pursue their own particular research strand:
David Stirrup‘s individual project within the Beyond the Spectacle framework will predominantly focus on diplomats and performers, and, of course, the intersection between the two – thinking, for instance, about the ways a certain kind of performance of “Indianness” becomes a pre-requisite to the diplomatic trip, and about the ways performances produce political and diplomatic effects. In addition, he is interested in particular in Ojibwe travelers and in the broader histories and theorisations of Indigenous mobilities.
Jacqueline Fear-Segal’s recent research and writing has focused on the federal system of Indian boarding schools in the USA, and the Carlisle Indian School in particular, so she is keen to track the many ‘graduates’ of these schools who joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and travelled throughout Europe. While working on the Board of Eighth in the East (a Heritage Lottery Funded project) she was alerted to the impact on East Anglia of 200,000 USAAF servicemen who were stationed in the region and is now very interested to research Native American World War II veterans who spent time in Britain.
Coll Thrush will build out from his book Indigenous London to help bring similar perspectives and analysis to bear on other places in Britain. He is especially interested in mapping practices that can highlight the ways in which Indigenous travellers interacted with British landscapes, urban and otherwise, and how those places as they exist today can be used to surface Indigenous history “out of bounds.”
Kate Rennard‘s new project is entitled “Cyd-Safiad (Standing Together): The Politics of Alliance of North American Indigenous Movements, Irish Republicans, and Welsh Nationalists”. It explores how these diverse groups formed political alliances with each other and traces the exchange of ideology and strategy between them. It also analyses the practical and ideological significance of the relationships, including how they shaped activists’ understandings of settler colonialism and what it meant to be Indigenous.
Jack Davy‘s individual project builds on his experience by examining Native American presences in the British heritage space, considering the ways in which indigenous peoples from North America encounter and experience both historic collections of material culture in the UK, and with British institutions and people more widely. This research is situated within the project’s broader scope of multi-generational narratives of encounter between Native American visitors and Britain, considering the changing nature of the power relations operating within this process.