Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher

By Esther Burnett Horne; Sally McBeth | Go to book overview

Notes

INTRODUCTION: COLLECTING AND COAUTHORING A LIFE HISTORY
I.
Life histories have long been regarded in anthropology as legitimate, if not perfect, approaches to understanding other cultures, because they emphasize the experiences of individuals and provide an insider's view of their life and culture. The amount of pub- lished material on life history and autobiography has grown immensely since the pioneer- ing works of Thomas and Znaniecki (1918), Dollard (1935), Allport (1942), Kluckhohn (1945), and Misch (1951). The history and theoretical background of the biographical ap- proach to anthropological fieldwork have been well documented; helpful discussions and useful bibliographies of a general nature can be found in Bertaux 1981; Blackman ed. I992; Haviland 1991; Langness 1965; Langness and Frank 1981; Mandelbaum 1973; Mintz 1989; Olney 1988; Rosenwald and Ochberg 1992; Shaw 1980; Watson 1976; Watson and Watson-Franke 1985; and Weintraub 1978.

American Indians have been and continue to be popular subject material for life histo- ries. References to this phenomenon as well as complete bibliographies can be found in Bataille and Sands 1984; Brumble 1981; Krupat 1985; Ruoff 1990; and Wong 1987.

Of course, many Native American autobiographies and life histories have been crit- icized owing to their western (non-Native) literary form and inaccurate interpretations by their non-Indian collectors. Cook-Lynn (1996) is particularly critical of "collaborative" life histories; her perspectives are central to an understanding of the problems associated with this genre. Sarris (1993, 79-114) provides a provocative assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of the narrated approach to American Indian lives. In addition Brumble I987; Clifford 1978; Krupat 1985, 1992; Murray 1991; and Vizenor 1989 examine these criticisms.

Historically, the life history has moved from a method in which the aim was to salvage the last vestiges of a vanishing people to one that records the lives of Natives as adaptive players, resistors, actors, and collaborators in the preservation of their own pasts and presents. See, for example, Bruner 1986; Clifford 1983; Haviland 1991; McBeth 1989, I993; McBeth and Horne 1996.

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