Oct. 26, 2021

In this episode of "It's Useful to Know", Dr. Sarah Rivett talks about how popular fictions about American history make some communities' experiences invisible, in this case indigenous communities. She also compares the symbolism of the Raven in Haida and Tlingit literature and Anglo-Christian literature.

About the Expert

Dr. Sarah Rivett is a professor of English and American studies at Princeton University. She works at the intersection of early American and Atlantic literature and indigenous studies. Dr. Rivett is the author of The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England (2011) and Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (2017). With the support of a grant from the Princeton Humanities Council, she launched a collaborative working group of faculty, staff, and students to develop foundational programming for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Princeton in 2021-22. 

Start a Conversation

  1. What does paying attention to religious stories, like those about the raven, help us to understand about how people in the United States think about their relationship to the places where we live?
  1. Dr. Rivett points out how the “Princeton: Settled in 1683” sign makes a claim about whose history and occupation of the land matters. How does noticing this claim make you think differently about the sign? How do you think it affects people, including both white and indigenous people, who drive past it every day?
  1. How does public indigenous art, such as the examples of the raven stamp or Tlinglit mural in additional resources, respond to public markers like the Princeton sign? What is similar or different about how they are produced and viewed? What do we learn about a community or nation by thinking about these two types of public images together?
  1. Pay a visit to a local historical marker or site in your own community. What story does it tell? Whose experiences are included and excluded? What effect does that have on how you think about the history of your community?

Additional resources

Maguire, Sean. “Telling Alaska’s Story: New Juneau Mural Honors Alaska Native Civil Rights Icon.” Alaska’s News Source. September 6, 2021. 

Press Release. “USPS To Hold Release Ceremony for Release of Tlingit Stamp.” Sealaska Heritage Institute. July 28, 2021.

Rivett, Sarah. “Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation.” Hosted by Ryan Tripp. New Books Network. November 27, 2017. 


Keep Learning

Tonight (10/26) at 4:30 pm: We hope you’ll join us for the next event in CCSR’s “Religion and the Public Conversation” series, featuring Dr. Natalie Avalos (University of Colorado Boulder). Dr. Avalos will talk with Princeton PhD candidate Ingrid Norton about comparative indigeneities among Tibetan and Native American peoples. In 2021-2022, the theme for this series is "Indigenous Traditions and Diaspora."

Register here for online or in-person attendance.

We also invite you to learn more about the experiences, scholarship, and activism of Native students, faculty, and staff at Princeton:

Michaels, Marissa. “Last month, Native students at Princeton embraced activism. Now, they’re looking ahead.” Daily Princetonian. December 7, 2020. 

Natives at Princeton

Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Princeton