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Cornelius News

New book on Cherokee Nation’s history gets NEH grant

Rose Stremlau, Davidson College associate professor of history. Photo | Davidson College

March 28. Some records are lost to history—destroyed during the nation’s bloodiest conflict, carelessly tossed aside when homes were seized and their contents purged, or exposed to the elements as the inhabitants of those homes trudged the desolate path of forced relocation.

It’s the job of the historian to surface the first-hand accounts and official records that remain and fill in the gaps left by those that no longer exist. With a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Davidson College Professor  Rose Stremlau hopes to do just that with a new, comprehensive history of the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest native nations in the United States.

With colleague and co-author Julie Reed, of Penn State University, Stremlau is drafting an account of Cherokee history from pre-1600 to 2010. Stremlau says the book project, titled “Sovereign Kin: A History of the Cherokee Nation,” will be the first of its kind.

Davidson College spoke to her about the scope of the project, and what  it address that isn’t already available to scholars and the public.

“For me, this project is more than 20 years in the making. I learned of the need for this book when I was a graduate student in the early 2000s and studying with a specialist in Cherokee history at UNC Chapel Hill.

“As I began reading the canon of Cherokee history, my advisor explained that there is no one book that gives a good, comprehensive overview because the book that was written for that purpose is dated—it was published in 1963. Frankly, it wasn’t a good book in 1963. From that point on, her comment has echoed through so many conversations I’ve had, first as a graduate student and then as a scholar of the Native South.”

Stremlau’s co-author, Reed, also studied with the same advisor in graduate school, and she’s a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

“She sees the demand for this resource for Cherokee leaders, tribal employees and educators, too. We share a commitment to ensuring that there is a current, accessible, and accurate source of information for students, policy makers, journalists, teachers, curators—folks who are interacting with Cherokee history and culture for all different kinds of reasons—and who don’t have time to do their own research or read multiple books,” Stremlau said.


What are some of the misperceptions the book will address?

“One that looms large in public perceptions of Native people in the South is this idea that Cherokees who acculturated, especially in the early 1800s before the Trail of Tears, meaning those who converted to Christianity, those who began to reorient themselves economically toward chattel slavery and plantations, were accepting the superiority of Anglo-American civilization,” Stremlau said.

“Cherokee history shows how Native responses to settler colonialism are both more complicated and interesting.”