Arts and Performance

Making History, Justifying Conquest: Depictions of Native Americans in American Book Company Textbooks

January 16, 2020March 13, 2020

Shaffer Art Building, SUArt Galleries

As the USA rose in world power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a government-led emphasis emerged in promoting a national history in which the conquest of Native peoples was justified. The American Book Company [ABC], one of the largest textbook publishers of the time, played a vital role in this process, producing many textbooks that contained illustrated histories featuring Native peoples. A vast audience of impressionable, young minds encountered these textbooks which rely on images mythologizing White heroism and conveying Native savagery and primitivism through scenes such as Daniel Carter Beard’s The Perils and Pleasures of the Wilderness—Daniel Boone, circa 1900. These books reflected and shaped widespread rhetoric of Euro-American superiority, which sought to justify the colonization of Native lands and the conquest of Native peoples.

This exhibition deconstructs the versions of history and Native peoples presented by the illustrations through four prominent themes found in ABC publications: contact, the construction of history, assimilation and violence, and the vanishing Indian. To further explain the different views, quotes from Native artists, writers, and scholars are included in each section. The authoritative, educational messages communicated in the American Book Company textbooks ensured a lasting legacy for dominant narratives of American history that still marginalize Native peoples today. However, by calling attention to these images and placing them in a more accurate context, this exhibition asks us to consider how images are used and misused to construct historical narratives.   

This exhibition is curated by Julia Jessen, Syracuse University G’20 in Museum Studies and Art History.

Academic Year Hours:

Tuesday 11 a.m.—4:30 p.m
Wednesday 11 a.m.—4:30 p.m
Thursday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m.—4:30 p.m
Saturday 11 a.m.—4:30 p.m
Sunday 11 a.m.—4:30 p.m

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This event was first published on January 13, 2020 and last updated on January 15, 2020.


Event Details

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