C. Richard KING

Thesis: Imperial recollections: The colonial contexts and postcolonial predicaments of exhibiting Native American cultures and histories in the contemporary United States (1996)


In this dissertation, I examine the imperial structures of American culture, outline an interpretation of the changing intersection of anthropological and historical techniques of representation, while documenting prevailing uses and understandings of Native American cultures and histories within exhibitionary spaces. I advance three arguments. First, I identify a shift in the imperial structures of American culture, from the celebration, comfortable acceptance, and largely unquestioned appropriateness of conquest and colonization to the predicaments associated with living through the illegitimate, uncomfortable, and conflicted aftermath of an irreversible conquest. Importantly, I theorize this reconfiguration of colonialism and culture in the contemporary United States as the emergence of postcoloniality, a condition marked not only by the breakdown of metanarratives which position Euro-American history and culture as History and Culture, but also the recycling of imperial idioms which resuscitate this connection. Second, anthropological and historical practices, no less than their objects, culture and history, have been fundamental to the recoding of the imperial structures of American culture. Third, while individuals and institutions have increasingly challenged and modified the stories told about Native America, these reformulations have largely reproduced or recuperated the structures and sentiments central to previous renditions. Exhibitionary spaces continue to rely on narrative and exhibitionary practices which devalue, stereotype, and dismiss Native American cultures and histories. I present historical ethnographies of four sites to substantiate these arguments: (1) the Smithsonian Institution, (2) the invention and perpetuation of Chief Illiniwek, the athletic mascot of the University of Illinois, (3) the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and (4) the exhibition of Comanche, supposedly the sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum. In conclusion, I propose four alternative sets of practice to ‘decolonize’ exhibitionary spaces: (1) reinvented anthropological histories, (2) repatriation, (3) revivification, and (4) reflexivity.