Profile of a FWIS: Beyond Pocahontas: Natives in Nineteenth-Century America


FWIS 139: Beyond Pocahontas: Natives in Nineteenth-Century America

An interview with Fay Yarbrough, Instructor

What do you think is interesting/distinctive about this FWIS course?
For many people, their knowledge of native history starts and ends with Pocahontas (the Disney version, no less) and the founding of the colonies.  Of course, native peoples continued to interact with European and African arrivals to North America long after the nation’s founding and have a vibrant history of their own.  This class will focus on the tumultuous 19th century which included the events of Indian Removal, native participation in the American Civil War, and their response to rapid western expansion by Americans.  I hope the class introduces students to a history that is new to them.

How did you get interested in this particular topic?
The story is a bit convoluted.  I was writing a paper about relationships between masters and slaves for a graduate seminar and used the WPA slave narratives as a source base.  Over and over again former slaves mentioned their native ancestry in these narratives, not just connections to members of the master class.  This led me to research native perspectives on interracial relationships and into native history more broadly.

What, specifically, are you excited about teaching in your FWIS this semester?
It is always exciting to work with students when they first arrive at Rice.  All Rice students work hard, but 1st year students seem to have a special kind of enthusiasm because everything is so new and a bit of adventure.  I look forward to being a part of that newness and adventure for my FWIS students.  

In terms of our class materials, I am excited about all of the primary sources that we’ll be examining and teaching Robert Conley’s novel Mountain Windsong about Indian Removal.