Chickasaw Society and Religion

Chickasaw Society and Religion

Chickasaw Society and Religion

Chickasaw Society and Religion


Chickasaw Society and Religion brings back into print one of the most important ethnographic sources on Chickasaw Indian society and culture ever produced, making it available to a new generation of students and scholars. The Smithsonian Institution ethnologist John Swanton published his work on the Chickasaws in 1928 as part of the Forty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, and, like Swanton's many other works on Southeastern Indians, it has remained one of the primary sources for scholars and students of Chickasaw and Southeastern Indian culture. Swanton combed printed and archival documents in constructing a picture of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Chickasaw life.

Swanton's keen eye for detail and his impressive knowledge of Southeastern Indian cultures make this study the starting point for all Chickasaw scholarship. Swanton broaches topics as diverse as Chickasaw marriage patterns, naming, government, education, gender roles, subsistence, religion, burial customs, and medicine. He also displays an intimate understanding of Chickasaw language throughout the essay that will aid future researchers.


Greg O'Brien

John Swanton (1873–1958) is synonymous with southeastern Indian studies. After completing his doctoral degree in anthropology at Harvard in 1900 and conducting fieldwork among Native peoples on the Northwest Coast, Swanton joined the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), where he remained until his death. Soon after joining the BAE, Swanton turned his scholarly gaze to the North American Southeast and subsequently published such a large and erudite body of work that, in the words of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, [mention of the area automatically brings to all of us the association of his name.] Swanton set the baseline that all subsequent scholars who have studied southeastern Indian history or culture have built upon. His work on southeastern Indians took him into the fields of ethnology, linguistics, folklore, ethnography, and ethnohistory. A half century after his death, John Swanton continues to evoke respect and awe from new generations of anthropologists, historians, and ethnohistorians.

One of the primary reasons that Swanton is still so relevant today is his status as a transitional figure in the development of ethnohistory. Ethnohistory arose as a scholarly field in the early 1950s when anthropologists and historians working on the Indian Claims Commission court cases formed the American Society for Ethnohistory (ASE) to encourage cross-disciplinary study of North America's Native peoples. Ethnohistory, at its most basic level, combines the cultural focus, theoretical frameworks, archeological evidence, and participant observation of anthropology with the use of written documents, oral history, and linguistics in order to more completely understand a specific population and their history. As one of the founders of ethnohistory, Wilcomb Washburn, wrote, the hoped-for result of such work is [history in the round.] Ethnohistory also falls into the broader movement of the Annales School of historical inquiry—which seeks a comprehensive interpretation of human history, often over decades- or . . .

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