COPLAC DIGITAL: Hidden Pasts and Indian Lands: Transfer, Dispossession, Reclamation


Event Zoom Connection Link:

Navajo cornfield in front of steep cliff in arid space
Navajo Cornfield from Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian,” 2003, plate facing p. 74.,

Fall 2018, MW 1.30-2.45 pm EST

Marie Duggan,, cell 603-831-4386, te

xt is best.  Office hours: M, W 10-11:30 am EST.

Sabine Klein,, cell 207-320-5259, text is best. Office hours: M, 10-11.30 EST, TH 11-1 EST.

Course Description: Every university campus in North America sits on indigenous lands, which have at some point been dispossessed to make room for settlers and their institutions. We often know little about the people who inhabited the land or about how land trade and dispossession actually happened, and we know even less about the ongoing indigenous attempts to reclaim these lands. In this course, students will seek answers to these questions and develop a larger sense of the economic, cultural, and legal history of tribal lands in North America. They will learn about legal and indigenous conceptions of property, how the concept of “secure private property” has been used to dispossess tribes/nations of their lands, and how they use their histories of dispossession in their attempts to reclaim territory. Students will use archival materials to produce websites that will document these untold stories of land trade, dispossession, and attempts to reclaim the lands on and around their campuses.

Course Outcomes:

    • Create a website that tells the story of native dispossession at campus location by means of student research, connecting the local institutions to this global issue. Develop a familiarity with diverse methods and processes of digital liberal arts and utilization of technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation
    • Work together cooperatively and creatively
    • Conduct research in a variety of settings and media
    • Demonstrate application of critical analysis, written, and oral communication skills through the website and oral presentations
    • Develop an appreciation of Native history and Native life in the U.S. today
  • Gain an understanding of theoretical concepts related to property such as such as sovereignty vs. property or communal property vs. title, and the different incentives for social organization provided by usufruct rights vs. alienation (right to sell or mortgage).


Attendance: Students are expected to attend all class sessions or view the class sessions online and meet with professors as needed/required, read all assigned texts, and participate in class.  

Deadlines: Students are also responsible for submitting all project drafts and the final product by the contracted due dates. Assignments are considered late if turned in/posted any time after the appointed due date. Late projects will be penalized one half letter grade per day.

Discussions: Students are expected to attend all classes having read the assigned material or having completed assigned tasks. Class participation includes actively participating in daily discussions and responding to class presentations. To that end, for each class for which there are readings/videos, students should also prepare a list of comments on the material (See website “reading” tab for guidance.)  Although we have no current plan to collect these comments, we reserve the right to do so at any point during the semester.

Blogging: Distance learning courses present unique challenges with regard to collaboration and communication. Some of the tactics we will use to bridge the distance gap will be blogs, discussions on Zoom, Google Hangout or Skype, and use of other social media. Narrating the planning, research, and implementation processes via your blogs is a central part of the class and a way for us to measure your effort, your creativity, and your progress as digital scholars. Blog about your problems as well as your successes. Be sure to comment on each others’ blogs and help each other out. We are a community, and we are all encountering similar challenges. So, tap into your colleagues’ experiences by posting your own thoughts and commenting on one another’s blog posts at least once a week. These weekly postings are minimum expectations for each class member.

Text: Allan Greer (2018). Property and Dispossession: Natives, Empires and Land in Early Modern North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

In addition to this one text which we will read together, each campus team will be assigned at least three required readings to get you started on your own research.  We will make these available to you.

Final Grades: Final grades will be determined based on class participation (including blogging, reflections, and regular presentations to the class) (35%), on performance on the project contract (5%) and project (50%), and on the quality of the final formal presentations on the projects (10%). Unsatisfactory performance will be reported mid-semester to your instructor of record on your home campus.  The seminar instructors will transmit the final grade to your advisor, and she or he will enter the grade using an independent study option at your home campus.

The Project: Students will create a website that documents the land trade, dispossession, and reclamation of their campus’ location as a Native space. The website will take the form of an online exhibition that includes artifacts and relevant background information; the exhibition will present viewers with an opportunity to learn about the Native connections to their locality and the Native past and present experience of that location. Moreover, the exhibition will also include an explanatory essay that explains to viewers what the site attempts to accomplish.

A planning draft of the project will be due on Oct 2, and based on the Project Contract (See below) and the Professors’ comments, students will submit a final version of their project by Dec 3.  

Project Contracts: Each student will create contracts with Professors  Duggan and Klein about their projects. The contracts are due Oct 17, though each contract will need to be approved by us and may need to be tweaked before approval. Each contract must include:

    • Mission statement (describe project)
    • Tools the student plans to use
  • Schedule of milestones (when critical artifacts are collected and written pieces are ready to present)

NOTE: These contracts may be revised as the semester goes on, though only with good reason and only after discussion with Professors Duggan and Klein.

Regular Presentations (or Updates):  Starting in week 6, each individual will be expected to make weekly status updates in class  on their progress. Although some weeks 3-5 minute updates will be sufficient, every other week individuals will need to present a more thorough update. More details on when you will be responsible for a lengthier presentation will be posted later in the semester.

End of the Semester (Public) Presentations:  At the end of the semester each individual will make a 8-10 minute presentation summarizing their project. More on this later in the semester.

Reflection Post/Defense of Contract: In the last week of the semester, each person will be expected to write a brief blog post or paper (your choice). This paper (~1-2 pages/~500 words) should reflect on the process and defend your project as contracted.

Learning the Digital Tools: Because the website project is central to this course, much of what you learn will be about using digital technology to create your website. We want to cultivate a sense of self-reliance as you work with these digital tools, therefore, when you have a question or encounter a problem, try finding the answer yourself through the WordPress Codex or other online resources. Remember that you can/should also use your fellow students as resources, as well. Then, if the solution still eludes you, reach out to computer support services on your campus. It is your job to find the contact information on the first day of class

Assignment Deadlines: See Course Schedule

Academic Conduct: If you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and we will report the incident to the Instructor-of-Record on your home campus.  On the other hand, having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of proper academic conduct (assuming the writing itself remains yours). If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to us sooner rather than later.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities:  We are committed to making this course and related activities accessible to persons with documented disabilities. If you receive services through your Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, please speak with us as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. We will need a copy of your accommodation letter. We will hold any information you share with us in the strictest confidence unless you give us permission to do otherwise. If you need accommodations, please consult with your Office of Disability Resources about the appropriate documentation of a disability.

Assessment: Because this course is supported with a Mellon Foundation grant, we will ask each student to participate in one survey before the beginning of the semester, and one survey at the end of the semester. These surveys are merely for information-gathering purposes and will not be a part of the grade.

Course Schedule:

Week 1: Introduction to class: Why use digital history to tell the story of Native dispossession?

Wednesday September 5

Reading assignment: Cohen and Rosenzweig, “Introductions”, (optional)

Digital History: “Our Beloved Kin”

View Information/Revolution

In class:

– Discussion: What is digital history and what can digital history accomplish?
– How is the website organized? Why is there a front-site and a course-site? Where should students post what?
– Where can you get help with wordpress?
-Photo-Upload assignment

Week 2: Archival Research and Some Content

Monday, Sep 10

ARCHIVAL RESEARCH WORKSHOP: We will talk about doing archival research and how archives matter to our class. Students will begin scavenger hunt in class, following the presentation. IMPORTANTLY, some of the scavenger hunt needs to be done in person.

Scavenger Hunt Assignment

HW: Blog Assignment: Carefully document your activities during the scavenger hunt and make sure to note any possible artifacts or websites that you come across that look helpful for you.

Wednesday, Sep 12

Reading: Greer, Introduction and Chapter 2,

Discussion: Greer
– why does Greer find PROPERTY worth talking about? (according to Greer and others)?

-How does Greer’s perspective on property issues as a historian differ from an economist’s perspective?

– what kind of questions about local Native history does Greer’s book raise for you?

Week 3

Monday, Sep 17

Reading Greer, Chapter 3, 4, and 5, groups of students will be assigned different chapters

How do the different imperial institutional contexts make a difference in terms of property?

Different student groups lead small discussions on Greer, looking at the larger picture from their regional vintage points.

Wednesday Sep 19

Reading: COPLAC-Digital Sites:
Century America
The Social Life of Books
Divided Houses

And a Native American Digital History site, chosen by you, e.g. Dawnland Voices

Students present archival findings in class, 
Discussion: How do exhibits work?
Presentation on Project contracts. How do they work?
What do they need to encompass?
Student will begin to draft the contract in class.

HW: Project planning presentation: Imagine the final exhibit you’re creating for your campus and other interested audiences and discuss
– what kind of questions your exhibit will address?
– what materials it will encompass [artifacts as well as connective and explanatory essays]?
– how it will be relevant to your audience?
– how it will address the history of property and dispossession on your campus? Due Oct 3

HW 2: Project contracts: Each contract must include:

    • Mission statement (describe project)
    • Tools the student plans to use
  • Schedule of milestones (when critical pieces are ready to present)

Due Oct 17

Week 4

Monday, Sep 24:

Reading: Selection from Banner

Faculty Presentation: Why does sovereignty matter? This is going to be about treaties.

Possibly discuss land grants as well.

Timeline due!

Wednesday, Sep 26

Reading: Students from each region lead one ten-minute discussion of one of their region-specific readings.

Week 5:

Monday, Oct 1

Native Issues today. I’d rather have another day to talk about history. But whatever we need. Or maybe this would be a good day for students to present and lead discussion on their local situation.

Native Artifacts Assignment due

Wednesday Oct 3

Artifact Show-And-Tell
Project planning presentations

Week 6:

Wednesday, Oct 10: Progress-Report, 

Week 7:

Monday, Oct 15: Progress Report, Mythical Disappearance due. 

Wednesday, Oct 17: Project Contracts Due

Week 8:

Monday, Oct 22:  Project report in class

Wednesday, Oct 24, Newspaper Online Search due.

Week 9:

Monday, Oct 29:  Project report in class

Wednesday, Oct 31. Native Origin Narratives due

Week 10:

Monday, Nov. 5:  Project report in class

Wednesday Nov. 7. Treaty Research due

Week 11:

Wednesday, Nov 14:  Project report in class, The Precontract-Landscape due

Week 12:

Monday, Nov 19:  Project report in class,  “Legal Dispute”-Assignment Due

HW: Blog 4: Creating a digital history site: What I’d like to tell those who come after me. [This is called “Reflection Blog” in the the syllabus) (Due Dec 5)

Week 13:

Monday, Nov 26: Project report in class

Wednesday Nov 28

Week 14:
Monday Dec 3: Student Presentations Due

Wednesday, Dec 5: Student Presentations Due.

Week 15:
Monday, Dec 10: Reflecting on the semester. Discussion