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Jennifer Graber (UT Austin), “‘Zotom Is Busy Drawing a Book’: Reading Religion in Plains Indian Ledger Notebooks”

Thursday, February 4, 2016 @ 4:15 PM - 6:00 PM

In Association with the Master of Museum Studies Program (Faculty of Information) and the Department for the Study of Religion

Historians of American Indian history have long struggled with the question of sources. Throughout the nineteenth century, many native societies on the Great Plains had neither scripted forms of their own languages nor many members literate in English. As a result, scholars dependent on traditional documentary sources have had few options for eliciting native perspectives on dramatic changes in their societies. A turn to material culture, however, opens up the evidentiary possibilities. Plains Indians produced rock art and painted tipis, as well as visual histories and notebooks full of drawings. Tracking changes in both the content and form of this visual production allows historians to access native reflections on their changing world.

This lecture explores Kiowa Indian drawings and calendars kept in ledger notebooks. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Kiowas created hundreds, if not thousands, of drawings and paintings in notebooks that circulated between Indian communities, American missionaries, military officials, and anthropologists. Through an examination of several Kiowa artists, this lecture asks how Kiowa forms of personal expression, history keeping, and reflection on encounters with the supernatural changed as a result of the move from visual production on natural materials to ledger books.


Jennifer Graber is a historian of religion in the United States specializing in inter-religious encounter and violence. Her first book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, explores the intersection of church and state during the founding of the nation’s first prisons. Her current project focuses on religious transformations in Indian and settler communities in Indian Territory over the course of the nineteenth century. Professor Graber teaches undergraduate classes on the history of religion in the United States, Native American religions, and the American West. She teaches graduate seminars on religion and violence, religion and empire, and approaches to the study of religion in the U.S.


Thursday, February 4, 2016
4:15 PM - 6:00 PM
Event Category:


Jackman Humanities Building (Room 100a)
170 St George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2M8 Canada
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Toronto Centre for the Book

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