and Cultural Concerns of Collecting
and Coauthoring a Life History
The story and life of Esther Burnett Home, which unfold in these pages, can be understood on a variety of levels. The story of this life has been written down as the record of an oral tradition so as not to be forgotten. This book is a chronology of a life presented in order to preserve its story for future family members. It is a history of Indian boarding schools as seen through the eyes of a student and teacher in that system. It is a story shared and written in partnership with an anthropologist. It is a Native story and a woman's story.
Life histories are stories people tell about themselves. They provide a point of view on the writer's past life. They are situated in a time and place. They have a teller, a listener, and an intended audience. The perspectives are fragmentary, the telling is motivated, and the resulting text is retrospective and reflective.
These characteristics of life histories illuminate the limitations and breadth of the genre, which are an acknowledged part of what life histories are—self-examined lives made public, stories that allow the teller's voice to be heard. 1 A life story is more than a recital of events. It is an organization of experience. Our experiences are not naturally remembered chronologically but rather in the order of their personal significance and the idiosyncratic connection of personal events.
Furthermore, life histories provide a context in which to reconsider anthropological methods and to question the rationale of ethnographic inquiry. These concerns are germane to the formidable issues that currently dominate many discussions within the social sciences and humanities. Current ethnographic writing seeks new ways to represent adequately the authority of informants and to explore methodologies that more accurately legitimize the expertise of the members of the culture being investigated. This effort to share our authority and to acknowledge who the authorities