Tuesday, January 19, 2021

In the Middle of Everything:
The Power of Indigenous Illinois in Early America

Speaker: Robert M. Morrissey, PhD

Sunday, January 31, 2021 • 3:30pm • Zoom!

Dr. Robert Morrissey, Associate Professor of History at University of Illinois (Champaign), will be presenting on indigenous settlement history in Illinois on a Zoom Sunday, January 31 beginning at 3:30pm.  Members wishing to check in early (especially for our annual elections) are invited to do so starting at 3:15pm.

The Native people of Illinois are not often regarded as key actors in early American history. In traditional tellings, they are frequently cast as desperate victims, beleaguered peoples whose challenges in the face of colonization were so great as to reduce them quickly to a status of dependency.

Historian Bob Morrissey will tell a new and different story about the Illinois Indians in the colonial period. He will explain how they followed a long-term trajectory of pragmatism and innovation, exploiting special opportunities made possible by their location to build power and exercise enormous agency not just in their region, but throughout the Great Lakes and Plains and even in the European power centers of Quebec, Louisiana, and Charleston.

Map credit: Native American tribal boundaries, 1700-1769. Map by James S. Oliver, IL St Mus. After: Helen H. Tanner. 1987. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian history. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. (edited)

By foregrounding Native peoples’ agency and decisions, this presentation will complicate our understanding of the early history of the state and region, challenging tired stereotypes. More importantly, it will examine why the Illinois Country – and particularly the tallgrass prairie environment that the Illinois occupied in the colonial period – was such an important place in early America. 

This presentation will make a case that the Illinois Country and its occupants belong at the center of our understanding of several key themes in early American history. As we celebrate the Bicentennial of the State of Illinois, we ought to revisit the Native American past of our region, as well as the often-ignored significance of the Illinois people in the pre-colonial and colonial eras.

Dr. Morrissey did his undergraduate work at Carleton College and earned 2 masters and PhD (with distinction) in history at Yale University.  He specializes in the history of early America and the Atlantic world, American frontier and borderlands history, ethnohistory, and environmental history.  His first book tells the story of French colonists and Native peoples of the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The book is entitled Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in the Colonial Illinois Country, and it appears in the Early American Studies Series from University of Pennsylvania Press.  His next project is entitled The Illinois and the Edge Effect: People, Environment, and Power in the Tallgrass Prairie Borderlands.  It is a study of the relationship between people and non-human nature in one of North America’s most distinctive ecological and social frontiers from 1200 to 1850.  It is supported by fellowships by the Illinois Center for Advanced Study and from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Other new writings are forthcoming in the Cambridge History of the American Revolution, Oxford History of the Midwest, and a volume on early St. Louis co-edited with Peter Kastor and Jay Gitlin from University of Nebraska Press. 

Bob has recently been the Mellon Faculty Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, where he led an interdisciplinary team in programming, research, and curriculum development. Among many other honors and accolades, Bob also helps to organize the Society of Colonial Wars’ Colonial America Lecture Series at the Newberry Library in Chicago. 

Join us at 3:30pm CST or earlier for a social period (and Election - members only) at 3:15pm CST!

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