What the settler science makes up: Emma Bennett Jones, ‘The Indians Say’: Settler Colonialism and the Scientific Study of North America, 1722 to 1848, PhD dissertation, Northwestern University, 2021


Abstract: “‘The Indians Say’: Settler Colonialism and the Scientific Study of North America, 1722 to 1848” examines the issue of evidence and credibility within natural history by following the circulation of Indigenous testimony through Anglophone networks of scientific knowledge production. By merging the history of science with Native American and Indigenous studies, this dissertation makes two interrelated arguments: first, that during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries information sharing between Indigenous peoples and Anglophone naturalists was both controlled by Indigenous actors and political in nature; and second, that the scientific credibility of Indigenous testimony was informed by colonial ideology and politics. Instead of prevailing scientific norms shaping American settler science, the reverse was true. Using four chronological case studies centered in the early eighteenth-century Carolina piedmont, the late eighteenth-century Eastern Woodlands, the early nineteenth-century Upper Mississippi River valley, and mid nineteenth-century Samoa, this dissertation demonstrates that colonial politics influenced naturalists’ decisions to cite Native American sources. In all four cases, Anglophone naturalists only had access to Indigenous testimony as a result of Indigenous diplomacy and information sharing practices. Moreover in each of these instances, Anglophone naturalists Mark Catesby, Benjamin Smith Barton, John James Audubon, and Titian Ramsay Peale each relied on Indigenous testimony and expertise, but the intellectual value these naturalists ascribed to this same information waxed and waned in direct response to settler colonial Indian policy.

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