From Pictograph, Text to Hypertext: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Native American Studies Online.

EN6016 Research Skills Presentation 31 January 2011

Today I did a presentation for the EN6016: Information, Literacy, Technology and Research module that I am doing as part of my Master’s degree. The assignment we were given to do involved preparing a pecha kucha PowerPoint presentation, which consists of 20 slides with 20 seconds per slide. Having a time limitation of 6 minutes and 40 seconds was daunting initially, but the temporal structure actually helped structuring my presentation. It also forced me to edit my work and to only include what was essential to delivering a point.

The task for the presentation was to present on a research topic or an area of research that we found to be interesting, to demonstrate the online research strategy we implemented when researching for the topic and to review the websites or online material we utilised. The research topic I chose for my presentation is Native American studies, which is an area of research I am particularly passionate about, and I would like to focus on it for my thesis. Therefore, this assignment was beneficial in several ways because it taught me how to edit and condense my work for presentations and it gave me an insight into the online material available in Native American Studies.

Although the Smithsonian Institution is my first website on my list, it was not my first port of call. I started off researching by using resource databases such as Intute, which is a very useful website and it contain an abundance of resources on American literature. However, it did not contain much about Native American Literature. Therefore, I was able to make a break through with the Smithsonian Institute. On this site, I did a search for my research topic and it led me to the National Museum of the American Indian.

The National Museum of the American Indian contain very good material for my research. It even has a blog that discusses and array of topics. A recent post questions ‘who is Indian and what makes a person an Indian,’ which is relevant in relation to the problems with ethnicity and identity I will be discussing in my thesis. However, the best part of this website are its resources.

It is like hyperlink heaven for any scholar of Native American studies. All the resources are categorised according to subjects such as anthropology, archaeology, art, literature, music, archives and libraries, which makes it very navigable for the user.

One of the links led me to the Internet Public Library, which is hosted by Drexel University. This site is maintained by a collaboration of students and volunteer library and IT professionals. In its special collections it has a section on Native American authors. There one can locate material by author’s name, title of work or by tribe.

However, the Internet Public Library is a good website in general. I did a search for American literature and I found loads of excellent resources. It also has a literary criticism section, which is worth exploring, but the Native American author’s page is like a hyperlink graveyard because have of the links are dead.

Having said that, the Native American Authors website does contain useful information and resources on Sherman Alexie who is one of the Native American writers I am interested in. His life story is a reservation to riches tale. He was born with hydrocephalus, suffered seizures as a child but it did not prevent him from reading Steinbeck at the age of 5. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fights, a collection of short stories, and the film, Smoke Signals are some of his best known works.

In my research I also examined Sherman Alexie’s official website, which does not contain as much information as I expected. There is very little material on Alexie online, in comparison to someone like the African American writer, Toni Morrison who has a fantastic webpage on the website Luminarium.

Having said that, there is an adequate selection of essays and articles on Alexie’s website, but all the material is linked to other sites. Some of the material is no longer available online, which seems to defeat the purpose of having a link there in the first place. It does, however, provide useful links to videos of interviews.

The UCLA American Studies Centre looked promising when I discovered it, but not much of the material is accessible for free. It provides access to publications but there is a fee for them.

UCLA also publishes the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. I found this journal to be exceptionally useful for my research but you have to pay for it if you access it through this website and it is very expensive. However, it is also available through Academic Search Complete, which can be accessed through the Boole Library website.

This website is the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures (ASAIL). It contains excellent bibliographies of resources on such topics as Native Americans and the Civil War and Trauma Studies, which are topics that I am interested in also.

This website also provides access to the SAIL journal that is published by the University of Nebraska Press. It is the only scholarly journal in the United States that focuses exclusively on Native American literature. Every issue from 1977 to 2009 is available for free online but the most recent articles are only accessible if you pay a subscription fee. However, this journal can also be accessed through Project Muse, which is one of the databases on the Boole Library website.

The WWW Virtual Library has a section on American Indians. It provides a good index of Native American electronic text resources on history and culture, but I was most interested in its movie section.

Since I am doing an interdisciplinary Master’s degree I will also be examining film for my thesis. In my thesis I would like to discuss how Native Americans are portrayed in film as a racial stereotype. The Native Celebs website provides photographs and information on famous Native American actors. One actor that is relevant to my research is Wes Studi who acted in Michael Mann’s Last of the Mochicans (1992) and Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves (1990).

This website is linked with the previous website and also contains useful photographs and information about Native American films.

We Shall Remain is the title of a multimedia project that establishes Native American history as an essential part of American history. Public Broadcasting Service produces this project and it has a plethora of fantastic websites on each program that it broadcasts. It even has a website dedicated to the American novel, and it covers a temporal trajectory of over 200 years.

The art I used for this presentation come from a website called First People. It is one of the best websites for photographs of Native Americans and Native American art. I found it quite difficult to locate contemporary photographs of Native Americans. Even the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institute and the New York Public Library Digital Gallery have not a great selection of contemporary photographic material.

In conclusion, when I started research Native American studies online I initially felt like the American Indian Sisyphus of the above painting because it seemed as though my efforts to find useful scholarly material were futile. It was like finding a needle in a hyper-stack, but when I started using the Smithsonian Institute was I was able to locate many authoritative websites on Native American studies. The material that I have presented in my presentation is only the tip of the iceberg. However, most of the material I located is only accessible through American University websites, which require one to be enrolled in their respective college in order to avail of the resources they have to offer. Some of this material is accessible through the Boole Library website which will be an indelible source of knowledge when researching for my thesis.

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