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HISTORIAN OF COLONIAL INDIAN ISSUES TO SPEAK AT JUNIATA

(Posted March 2, 2001)

James Merrell, a history professor at Vassar College and author of "Into the American Woods," a history of diplomacy between Indians and settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier in the 18th century, will speak on "Revisiting and Revising Penn's Woods" at 7:30 p.m., March 15 in Alumni Hall in the Brumbaugh Science Center on the Juniata College campus.

The lecture, which is part of the Delbert McQuaide Lectureship in history and is sponsored by the history department, is free and open to the public.

Merrell's book centers on the diplomats of the Pennsylvania settlements, called "go-betweens" by both the white and Indian inhabitants of the state. Merrell focuses his history on the period from the founding of Pennsylvania to the start of the French and Indian War in 1754.

In this period of settlement on the frontier, called "The Long Peace" by historians, conflicts often were settled by the "go-betweens" who acted as negotiators and translators for settlers and the Indian tribes of Pennsylvania. Merrell's book profiles several Indian go-betweens, Scarouyady and Shickellamy, and the colonist negotiators, Conrad Weiser, Andrew Montour and others.

The history describes how Indian tribes preferred to use negotiators of high standing in the tribe, regardless of their ability to speak English, while the colonists preferred to use people who spoke Native American languages, people such as fur traders, missionaries or people of mixed blood. The colonial go-betweens, however, often were treated skeptically by the colonial settlements because of their social class or because they were familiar with Indian culture. The mixed messages received by both sides in any negotiation made such diplomacy particularly difficult.

Merrell also vividly describes life on the frontier, where travel to an Indian village was a long slog on "narrow paths filled with briars, thorns and swamps, across raging rivers and over stony ridges." He also describes Indian interactions with settlements such as Philadelphia, which Oneida Indian visitors saw as an overcrowded, noisy place filled with pestilence.

Merrell, professor of history at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., received the 2000 Bancroft Prize for distinguished work in history and diplomacy and was a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for "Into the American Woods." He also received the 1990 Bancroft Prize and the 1990 Frederick Jackson Turner Award for his previous book, "The Indians' New World."

Merrell has been at Vassar since 1984. He also spent a year at Northwestern University as a professor of history from 1998 to 1999. He started his career as an instructor at Johns Hopkins University in 1981. He was an assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. from 1982 to 1984.

Merrell earned a bachelor's degree in history from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis. in 1975, and earned a bachelor's degree in history from Oxford University in Oxford, England in 1977. He earned a master's degree in 1979 and a doctorate in 1982, both from Johns Hopkins University.

Merrell is currently co-editing an anthology of articles on Indian history called "American Nations: Encounters in Indian Country" and is working on a book on Black Hawk, the Sauk tribe war chief.

The Delbert McQuaide Lectureship in History Series was established by Delbert McQuaide, a 1958 Juniata College graduate. He was a senior partner at McQuaide Blasko Law Offices in State College and served as general counsel for Penn State University and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He was president of the Centre County Bar Association, and a member of the Pennsylvania, and American Bar Associations and the National Association of College and University Attorneys. Mr. McQuaide was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1994 and served as chairman from 1996 until his death in 1997.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.