Sep 6, 2005

On "Pocahontas" and Ohio History

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Left: 1616 engraving of Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe

A recent survey of 57 students in a survey-level history course at the University of Toledo provided interesting data on the general awareness of this sample group toward the history of indigenous peoples who formerly populated Northwest Ohio. For the purposes of the study, students who were raised outside the rough parameters of “Northwest and Northern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan” were eliminated from the analysis, since they would ostensibly have less connection to the history of the area. The remaining students, who numbered 49, were asked to name any Native American groups that they believed once lived in this region.

While the survey size was relatively small, the results provided some meaningful data. Nearly 37% of respondents could not name any Native American group, or felt compelled to jot down answers outside the purview of the survey. Approximately 22% of respondents answered with a Native American group, such as the Seminoles, that did not have a direct historic connection with the region in and around Northwest Ohio. Only 20% of respondents could name 2 or more Native American groups. Finally, out of 49 respondents, exactly zero could name the Potawatomi as a group of people who once populated the Great Black Swamp and surrounding areas.

The recollections that students had from childhood, pop culture, and secondary schools provide insights into the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of social studies curricula in regional schools. Students were much more likely to recall information on Native American groups from movies than from secondary schools.

Not surprisingly, students most frequently noted the Disney film “Pocahontas” as their number one source for information about Native Americans. In fact, over 42% of survey respondents claimed that their secondary schools provided little or no instruction on Native American history or culture, or that they have no recollection of this material being presented to them. A number of students pointedly chastised their schools for a curricular focus that was almost entirely 20th century and American in its coverage of history.

While the sample size in this survey was small, the results unquestionably indicate a general lack of awareness among college students on the indigenous peoples who lived in Ohio.

The questions now before us: Should we care, and should we rely on the Disney Corporation to provide education on Native Americans?

9 comments:

Frank said...
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Frank said...

Great question. If I hadn't searched recently for a room at the Potawotami Inn across in Indiana, I'd have only mentioned the settlement at Fort Industry and the Battle of Fallen Timbers as rememberances. East Side historian Larry Michaels has a chapter in one of his excellent east side history books on "the last native american" to inhabit lands in present-day eastern Lucas County. I'll rummage around the various places I keep my books, dig it up and share it here.

Peggy Payne said...

It's pretty clear the Disney view shouldn't be the only one.

I'm curious, HistoryMike, about what you mean by "public history" and it's being an obligation of the historian.

I'm new to historical research. I'm mainly a novelist, and prior to that a reporter. I've recently begun a biography of a woman who died two years before I was born. I'm just beginning to learn about the protocols and ethics of this field.

historymike said...

Hi Peggy:

Good question. In general, "public history" used to refer to museums, archives, and historic sites that get historical info to the public.

In this age of emerging technology, the Internet will play a larger role.

However, the discipline of history is sometimes criticized for being insulated and not fully engaged with the public. If ivory-tower types are unhappy with the quality of historical knowledge among students and the general public (as we are), then we have an obligation to bring our ideas and knowledge to the public.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Mike,

I have dabbled a little (very little) in some local history and never came across the Potawatomi as inhabiting the Great Black Swamp.

Other groups may have been mentioned as being in this area, but not in the swamp itself.

It again proves to me that I need to stick my nose in more books and cut down on the screen time...


I should also get more serious about my lame attempts at researching my own family's genealogy.

historymike said...

Frank and Hooda:

I'll follow up more on the Potawatomi in coming weeks, as I am finishing an article on how they have been written out of Ohio history.

They claim everything north of the Maumee as their ancestral lands, and they were signatories to all of the major Ohio treaties between Native American groups and the fledgling US government.

Ottawa, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Wyandot, Mingo, and Miami were among the more prominent groups in the area, but the region's history should more properly be recognized as a sort of blending of many NA groups.

The Reverend Cutting Marsh, who I briefly profiled a few weeks ago, mentions numerous encounters with the Potawatomi in his 1829-30 diary.

Peggy Payne said...

Thanks, Mike.

Lisa Renee said...

Wish I could say I was surprised, but I've found this personally when I've gone into classrooms. Thankfully my children have had teachers who have gone beyond what is the typical Ohio history curriculum or have allowed parents like us who are interested in history to share what we've learned.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Thanks for the follow-up Mike.

"Ottawa, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Wyandot, Mingo, and Miami were among the more prominent groups in the area, but the region's history should more properly be recognized as a sort of blending of many NA groups."

Those were the groups I came across in my limited travels.

"They claim everything north of the Maumee as their ancestral lands, and they were signatories to all of the major Ohio treaties between Native American groups and the fledgling US government."

So, we can expect casinos next year?
(Tongue firmly in cheek)

-HT