I’m sitting in the Ottawa International Airport with a cup of Tim Horton’s Coffee, waiting for my flight back to Michigan. I came here to attend my first Conference of the American Society for Ethnohistory. Being a scholar whose work crosses disciplinary AND national boundaries, there are a number of conferences that my research is relevant to, so I can’t get to all of them regularly. This year Ethnohistory was held in Ontario, though, and some colleagues organized a session on post-dispersal Huron-Wendat research, so it was a no-brainer to show up.
And WOW. It has been an amazing weekend for me. There are several of us doing research that relates to the post-dispersal (post-1649) Huron-Wendat. I thought I knew most of the folks doing research, but our session brought together some other folks I hadn’t met before as well. In some sort of interesting phenomenon, several of us are finishing up dissertations this year that relate to the post-dispersal Huron-Wendat in some way or another, after several years that have seen limited scholarship on these communities. Getting us all into the same town for a few days was fantastic. I learned a lot about Huron-Wendat communities outside of the area I study, and in time periods beyond my own research focus. Additionally, the discussions and debates about kinship, community relationships, and language have my mind reeling with new ideas and ways of studying the diaspora of the Huron-Wendat that I had not considered before. Excluding a few papers on ethnogenesis and migration that I popped in on, I really stayed in my Huron-Wendat bubble and took advantage of having all these scholars within arms reach. It is very easy for each of us to get caught up in the specific data we are studying for our own research. Looking at the long-term patterns over several communities is too difficult for any one of us to do, but seeing what others have found really improves my own scholarship. I think we are like the academic version of Voltron.
Individually, we are are doing good scholarship. But when we come together, our research is unstoppable!
Maybe that’s a little overdramatic, but the point still stands. All of us are improving one another’s research. This is why we need a community of scholars. I am excited about the direction our research is going to take moving forward.
I heard an interview on NPR with Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From. In it he discussed the coffeehouse culture that Benamin Franklin participated in. Johnson suggests that you get several people with different interests and information together for conversation. Conversing about the ideas at hand, along with conversing about other topics helps these individuals to build new ideas, stacked on top of information and ideas that come from the others. I definitely feel that part of the reason this weekend was so enlightening for me was the fact that I was talking with historians, art historians, anthropologists and linguists. We presented formal papers, but also met informally and talked about contemporary political issues, pop culture and blogging in addition to our research. We shared drinks and food. This allowed us time to brew ideas and return to them as they developed. It also laid the foundation for future discussions – we now feel quite comfortable posing questions to one another and I suspect that when we see tidbits in our data that may be of interest to others, we will pass them on. At least I hope so.
For those of you interested in my panel, here is the list of folks involved:
Tom Peace : Huron-Wendat Land Use and Conceptions of Territory in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Canada
Kathryn Magee LaBelle : “Part of the Same Body” : The Wendat-Algonquian Coalition and the Process of Relocation, 1650-1701
My own presentation was titled: Material Culture and Wendat Identity, and compared symbolic materials from pre-dispersal archaeological sites to materials from the western Wendat through 1701.