by Kevin McPherson
During my junior year (2014-2015), I started an independent study course with Dr. Mary Frederickson in the Institute of Liberal Arts (ILA) as part of my Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) major.
At first, I wanted to look at how the idea of “blood quantum” came about when determining Native American citizenry. It was a complicated matter, and one that I was ready to tackle, but I don’t think the subject was well-researched enough because I ran into a dearth of references on the subject. It wasn’t until Dr. Frederickson brought up the publication A Century of Dishonor, written by the popular 19th century fiction writer Helen Hunt Jackson, that a new question started to surface: why did Jackson, a popular poet and literature writer decide that writing A Century of Dishonor would be her first try at non-fiction? Moreover, why did she write this book as a defense of Native Americans’ rights as they were being pushed onto reservations in the American West? These questions needed answers before I could dive any deeper into a larger project, and I would find these answers through digitalized archives at Colorado College.
As I sifted through some of the digital archives, I realized that this wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. I needed those digital journals in paper form and I needed to look at the trinkets and other belongs that Jackson kept. Luckily, I’ve been able to procure a fellowship with the Rose Library that allows me to travel to Colorado College’s archives in the winter. I find it increasingly important to build a story about this woman’s life that hadn’t been explored in ways previously; no one had painted Jackson as an activist or someone who cared much about human rights. There was evidence of that otherwise: she talked to many of the Transcendentalists of America, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, and saw the human life as sacred in the grace of her God.
Jackson occupied a unique and timeless spot in history that is more of an enigma to me now than it was when I started, and I’m lucky that I’ve had both Dr. Frederickson and my fellowship through the Rose Library to guide me. However, something was missing in the fall of 2015: a space of intellectual community.
That’s where my SIRE fellowship with the Fox Center came into play. Almost immediately upon moving in, I found a community that helped me think about and analyze parts of my research that I never thought about. For instance, one of the postdoctoral fellows that has an office right next to mine specializes in poetry and how it changes epistemology. She reached out to me on my first day at the Center and said should I need any help analyzing Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry, she’d be more than welcome to help me out. Wow! An expert as my next door neighbor!
In addition, the Center has provided me with a quiet and peaceful place to write. Humanists know that half the battle is just sitting down and getting the work down. I’ve been very fortunate to spend a lot of 5AM mornings in peace and quiet and knocking out almost 100 pages of draft for my final IDS project. Hopefully I can continue on into spring…(more to come).
Kevin is a 2015 Fox Center Undergraduate Humanities SIRE Fellow