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A New Look at the Native American Narrative

The Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa, as painted by Charles Bird King.

"In the spring of 1805, a one-eyed Shawnee notorious for his loud mouth and his hard drinking fell into a trance."

It's not the typical opening sentence of a scholarly book, but The Shawnees and the War for America is not, per se, a scholarly book. It's a book by a scholar meant for a broader audience.

This title, by Colin Calloway, the Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies and a professor of history, is one of the first books in The Penguin Library of American Indian History, a new series by scholars of Native American topics, for the general reader. Calloway is the editor for the series, which released its first volumes this summer and will release one every six months for the next several years.

The series' third release, American Indians and American Law, due out this winter, is also by an author with Dartmouth connections. A 1980 graduate of Dartmouth, Bruce Duthu is both vice dean for academic affairs and a professor at Vermont Law School but is spending the current academic year at Dartmouth as the Gordon Russell Visiting Professor in Native American Studies. Duthu also was the convocation speaker in September. A native of Louisiana, he is a member of the United Houma Indian Nation.

"The idea as a whole was really to get short, accessible histories of Native Americans written by people who have done serious research in the field," says Calloway. "All my professional life"--he received his doctorate in 1978--"there has been this incredible outpouring of American Indian history, but most of it is in university press books."

Calloway continues to produce his share of scholarly works as well, in addition to teaching courses on American Indian history and "American Odysseys," such as the Lewis and Clark expedition. Most recently, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of America (Oxford, 2006) received critical acclaim, and One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark (University of Nebraska Press, 2003) won six "best book" awards. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen other volumes and was recently chosen for the 2008 Kidger Award, given by the New England History Teachers Association. (Other recent Kidger Award recipients include Diane Ravitch, Eric Foner, David Brion Davis, Gordon Wood, and David Hackett Fischer.)

The Penguin Library series aims to represent a range of regions, historical periods, and themes. Upcoming titles will focus on the Iroquois Confederacy and its effect on early American culture, the interactions of the Pueblos and Spaniards in what is now New Mexico, the Lakotas and their continuing struggle to reclaim the Black Hills, the great ancient Indian civilization of Cahokia, and American Indians and American law.

The books are fun to write as well as to read, Calloway says. "You are writing about something that you know well, and you are liberated from the heavier academic apparatus you normally use. I'm hopeful that makes for a better read."


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Last Updated: 5/30/08