Friday, July 3, 2020

Monumental Mobility: The Memory Work of Massasoit - by Lisa Blee & Jean M. O'Brien

I read this for a faculty book discussion at the university where I work. It has local interest as the original statue of Massasoit (8sâmeeqan) is located on Coles Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts about 20 miles from the university. Created by artist Cyrus Dallin in 1921 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, replicas of the statue can now be be found in Dayton, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Provo Utah; Springville, Utah and on the lawn of the Howard B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University (BYU), where students refer to the monument as "the naked Indian" and are scandalized over that fact that 8sâmeeqan doesn't adhere to BYU's dress code. One student with whom the authors spoke suggested that the statue be moved near the gym "to align with student-athletes in their sometimes-skimpy BYU-issued gym shorts". However, the student also pointed out that such a location "could be interpreted as the rival university's 'Ute' mascot and serve as target practice...".  

The original statue was commissioned by the Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization still in existence and "limited to physically, mentally, and morally sound" white men. Its headquarters are located in Waco, Texas, and the authors made good use of its research library there. The Red Men Museum and Library also owns some 11-inch replicas of the statue commissioned as a fund-raising effort just before the statue's unveiling.

It was certainly an interesting time to read and discuss this book, not only because we are now recognizing the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' landing, an anniversary celebration that has been in the works for many years, and will now take place virtually, but also because we are witnessing the destruction of monuments to colonizers, and taking part in a larger discussion of the meaning of monuments to those who build them, those who visit them, and those who remove them.

The final chapter of the book "Marketing" explores how the statue has been exploited, along with other memorials, to make Plymouth a tourist destination - America's Hometown (and I know some Washingtonians who would dispute that moniker). The authors describe several tours available to tourists, some that provide a Pilgrim-centric view, and others that "challenge...expectations for a celebratory settler origin story." The traveling exhibit Captured! 1614 opened in 2014 in the Plymouth Public Library. 
Created under the guidance of Mashpee Wampanoag Paula Peters with a team of Wampanoag designers, researchers, and historical interpreters...the exhibit panels and series of short films...Captured! 1614 presents the Patuxet Wampanoag perspective on the slaving expedition of Thomas Hunt, who seized twenty men and boys from Patuxet, including Tisquantum...for sale in Spain...According to Peters, the reception of the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive among Wampanoag communities and non-Indian viewers.
Excellent scholarship written for everyone.

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