Ethnohistory News: ASE 2012 Prizes
The Committee of the WHEELER-VOEGLIN PRIZE given annually by the Association for the most the outstanding book in Ethnohistory published in the previous year is pleased to announce its winner. The Committee received an extensive list of nominations from an unusually strong field. After months of reading and weeks of discussion, the committee unanimously chose as its winner, Pete Sigal’s The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture published by Duke University Press. In the Flower and the Scorpion Sigal relies upon deep archival research, a mastery of the secondary literature on his topic, and a sophisticated theoretical framework. In elegant prose he creates a stunning and illuminating discussion of “sexuality” among the Nahua in pre-contact Mexico. His work turns on a paradox: he seeks to illuminate a category (“sexuality”) that did not exist for the Nahua in the sense we know today. A major strength of his work is that he acknowledges this “otherness” and the limits it places upon our ability to know, and then proceeds to use those very limits to demarcate the boundaries of what we can know about this very different world of Nahua thought and culture. Sigal uses his own readings of Nahuatl texts and ceremony to recover a world that is non-Western, highly complex and sophisticated, beautiful, but also intelligible and challenging. Of equal importance to his work is his mastery of the Spanish colonial context within which many of his sources were produced, and the ways in which the Spanish observers failed to understand the Indian world around them. The committee agrees that this is a tremendously impressive “translation” of centuries of cultural encounters. It is a work worthy of attention by scholars working in myriad fields and time periods.
Given the depth of this year’s pool of submissions, the committee was moved to recognize an additional outstanding text as the runner-up in the competition. The committee would like to commend Rose Stremlau for her outstanding and evocative study, Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation. Stremlau’s study, based upon skilled and profound research, brings to life how in the wake of the Federal Government’s allotment of Cherokee lands many Cherokee individuals and families, by drawing on deep cultural reserves, adapted to private ownership of land. Stremlau’s methodology relies upon intensive archival work in the tradition of social history paired with sophisticated interpretive skills rooted in her understanding of historical and contemporary Cherokee teachings and values. The results is a work that brings into focus the decisions and strategies that nineteenth-century Cherokee individuals employed in order to keep intact the central unit of Cherokee society—the family—in the face of colonial attempts to dismantle it. Stremlau’s work is a model of how ethnohistoric research can bring the stories of historical individuals to life, connecting them with present-day communities. It is a truly remarkable accomplishment for a first book.
There were thirty-nine articles submitted for the HEIZER PRIZE for the best article published in the field of Ethnohistory this year, including those published in Ethnohistory. The articles were in English and Spanish, ranged from the thirteenth century to the present and from Korea to Kenya. They embraced a host of different methodologies, including linguistic and historical analysis, cultural studies, and environmental history. The great diversity testifies to the strength of the field.
One article stood out for its outstanding scholarship, strong narrative, and methodological breadth. It is the winner of this year’s prize: Coll Thrush’s “Vancouver the Cannibal,” published in the winter 2011 issue of Ethnohistory. Thrush uses food as a window onto the cultural encounter that occurred on the Pacific Northwest Coast in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and shows that eating and food were sites of both common ground and contestation. As he illustrates, the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between civilized and savage, the foundation of colonialism, was still in the process of construction. But the contingent and particular judgments that native and European peoples initially made about each other’s food were soon replaced by a stark divide: Us and Them, Our Food and Their Food.
We were especially impressed by the way that Thrush paid equal attention to European and native categories of understanding. Using oral tradition as well as the accounts of explorers, he puts those categories into conversation with each other, producing a narrative that represents the best of ethnohistory. For these reasons, we are delighted to award the 2012 Heizer prize to Coll Thrush’s article, “Vancouver the Cannibal.”
THE 2012 HELEN HORNBECK TANNER PRIZE for the best paper given by a student at the conference goes to Ian Puppe for his paper “No Home on the Range: Ruin,
Reclamation, and Revitalization in Algonquin Provincial Park.” The
committee applauds Ian for crafting an intriguing exploration of the
Algonquin Nation of Pikwakanagan’s claim to Algonquin Provincial Park in
Ontario, Canada and the conflict that ensued over it. The contest for
control of the land, argues Puppe, can only be understood by locating it
within a dense matrix of related issues, such as land tenure, memory and
commemoration, conservation, longterm economic shifts, ontology, and the
distinctions between Status and non-Status Indians. In so doing, he has
crafted a fine ethnohistorical analysis much deserving of the Tanner Award.