Jessica Yann, a PhD candidate focusing on historical archaeology, received the Newberry Consortium in American Indian Studies Graduate Student Fellowship this year to support the archival portion of her research. Jessica’s research centers around Native Americans’ use of trade goods in the 18th Century Midwestern U.S., including what goods they were buying, and who they were buying from. To document the networks of trade that Native Americans helped create, Jessica is researching both archaeological collections and historical archives.
Because she is focusing on the 18th century, documents kept by Europeans provide an important source of data for her project. Letters and account books from the time period testify to the back-andforth of goods needed and ordered. The Newberry Library had materials she was particularly interested in, such as the Ayer collection which includes a variety of documents on Native Americans during the time period. The collection includes letters back and forth among members of trade companies and to US government offices discussing how Indian trade should be handled. The Newberry Fellowship supported her research in Chicago this past summer, including one month in residency at the library, full fellow status and priority access to materials, costs associated with the library, and a stipend to live in Chicago.
Jessica has also analyzed existing archaeological collections of Native American sites this past year, some of which have been minimally studied. The archaeological record revealed what items Native Americans were choosing in trade–or not. “You have people making decisions that aren’t always expected, and adapting to lots of new circumstances,” she explains. Her research will show the ways that Native Americans made decisions that benefitted them, sometimes in ways that have not been clear to scholars. She’s hoping to help demonstrate that notions of dependency that many have about Native Americans, especially during 18 century, are misguided. Native Americans were exercising agency in complex ways and making strategic choices.
In addition to her dissertation research, Jessica teaches Introduction to Archaeology (ANP 203) and is working part time for the Michigan State Archaeologist’s office. She’s a lead organizer for this year’s Archaeology Day on October 10. As she finishes up her data analysis, Jessica will begin presenting her findings this year, first at the Midwest Archaeological Conference in November, and then at the Society for American Archaeology in April 2016.
Images, top to bottom: Jessica Yann; A letter written by John Jacob Astor
This article is in the Department of Anthropology’s Fall 2015 Newsletter, see the entire newsletter here.