Academic journal article The Historian

Interview with Peter Iverson

Academic journal article The Historian

Interview with Peter Iverson

Article excerpt

Born in 1944 in Whittier, California, Iverson received his bachelor's degree at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, and his master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has broken new ground in the study of American Indians and the American West in the twentieth century. His nine books, three edited volumes, and scores of articles and essays have not only contributed to the historiography of the Navajos and ethnohistory but have addressed significant cultural, environmental, and political issues of the American West. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1999 and many other prestigious fellowships, grants, awards, and honors, Iverson has been very active in several professional associations as well as the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian history in Chicago. Serving as associate editor of The Historian from 1990 to 1995, Iverson has also evaluated manuscripts for over 30 scholarly journals and publishers, consulted on five documentary films, and participated in interdisciplinary conferences in Australasia and Europe, as well as throughout North America. In 2000, Iverson became Arizona State University's first Regents' Professor of History The parents of four children, Peter and his wife Kaaren live in Tempe, Arizona, where this interview was concluded in October 2000 by Roger Adelson.

THE HISTORIAN: What are some of the challenges that face the historian of Native Americans at the beginning of a new century?

IVERSON: The reality of Indian lire has been difficult for historians to perceive. We are trained to rely on the written record and the printed word. We move diligently from one archive to the next. Such research is essential, but incomplete. We must do more. Even if we choose to write about the distant past, we need to travel to the land where the people lived. If the people still live there, then we must learn about their language and their culture, listen to and think about what they have to say. In other words, we need to explore different ways of seeing a historical event or person. Those of us who write about recent Indian history have the opportunity to speak to Native people who have lived through these times. We can employ tribal records and oral histories. This makes it possible to provide a kind of history that does not read primarily as an account of the whites as the actors and the Indians as the acted upon. So we need to place more emphasis on agency and less on victimization; while not ignoring past and present problems, we should write less about defeat and decline and more about survival, adaptation, and, at times, prosperity. We also need to write with the scrupulousness and care born of the knowledge that we are writing about people and feelings that are very much alive. Such an approach encourages fairness and responsibility on our part, and that can only result in better history.

THE HISTORIAN: In one of your recent books, you thanked your maternal grandparents and your parents for first teaching you about "the power of memory, the meaning of place, the value of listening, and the potential of storytelling." Please tell us about these people and how they stimulated your interest in Native Americans.

IVERSON: I come from a long line of teachers. My mother's parents were the children of immigrants, German-speaking farmers, shoemakers, and shopkeepers from Luxembourg who settled in and near a small town in eastern Kansas. Both taught school before they married at the turn of the century, and they and their daughters formed a tightly knit Catholic family. My grandfather was elected the county superintendent of schools. He loved his office in a large, red brick Victorian courthouse that had "Truth" emblazoned on one side of it and "Justice" on the other. As family history, has it, he lost his bid for reelection due to anti-German feeling during the First World War. He eventually went back to school, earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and began teaching at Haskell Institute in the same town. …

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