Professors Alf Siewers and Katherine Faull on the new series “Stories of the Susquehanna Valley”
by Bryell StClair, ’14
This first volume in the new Stories of the Susquehanna Valley series describes the Native American presence in the Susquehanna River Valley, a key crossroads of the old Eastern Woodlands between the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay in northern Appalachia. Combining archaeology, history, cultural anthropology, and the study of contemporary Native American issues, contributors describe what is known about the Native Americans from their earliest known presence in the valley to the contact era with Europeans. They also explore the subsequent consequences of that contact for Native peoples, including the removal, forced or voluntary, of many from the valley, in what became a chilling prototype for attempted genocide across the continent. Euro-American history asserted that there were no native people left in Pennsylvania (the center of the Susquehanna watershed) after the American Revolution. But with revived Native American cultural consciousness in the late twentieth century, Pennsylvanians of native ancestry began to take pride in and reclaim their heritage. This book also tells their stories, including efforts to revive Native cultures in the watershed, and Native perspectives on its ecological restoration.
While focused on the Susquehanna River Valley, this collection also discusses topics of national significance for Native Americans and those interested in their cultures. We spoke to Professors Siewers and Faull, editors of this exciting new series, to get a better perspective on their inspiration and direction.
What is the inspiration for this book series?
This series emerged from work at Bucknell and neighboring universities on highlighting narratives of place in the Susquehanna watershed. Several years ago, representatives of the Nature Conservancy told us that one of the greatest needs for conservation work in the watershed was a stronger narrative of regional landscape and place. That charge also was given to us by a regional consortium of universities concerned with environmental issues, the Susquehanna Heartland Coalition. Our Northern Appalachian watershed was an important part of the development of America, rich in history and cross-cultural contacts, but much of that history has been largely invisible in recent generations at a regional and national level.
Simultaneously, we had been working at Bucknell to develop environmental humanities programs, and to develop theoretical work on the relation between landscape and narrative in different cultures, from the standpoint of the humanities, at both Bucknell’s Environmental Center and Environmental Studies program, and in our own work. That scholarly and curricular work informed the series greatly, including even in its planned inclusion of a natural history volume, in which scientists are working with a creative writer to help renew the genre of scientific narrative writing as natural history, but at a regional level.
How are you personally connected to the Susquehanna Valley and the idea of an environmentally sustainable human community?
As residents of the Valley, and working at an institution near the Valley’s Confluence, we were struck by how localism and rich local cultures in the Valley can be a source of strength, in terms of quality of life and sustainability. But those diverse historical, literary, and cultural narratives need to be highlighted more in relation to one another. The river has often been a neglected resource. Some accept an embarrassed attitude toward living in this tremendously varied watershed, which covers three states in an historical heartland of America. Involvement in hiking, kayaking, and raising children in the Valley, and seeing its potential for sustainable living, in relation to issues such as the local food movement, also strengthened our personal connections to the region. Katie’s involvement also came from her long-standing archival research on the Moravians in the region and their relationships with Native cultures, from which have developed relationships today between environmental efforts in the Valley and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Delaware peoples. My involvement came partly from my interest in regional landscape conservation in my past work as an environmental journalist, and my work in environmental criticism and semiotics. Sustainability needs to involve relationship and commitment to place, and this series is an expression of a desire to work that out in scholarship that is also publicly accessible and able to stimulate discussions and change in areas of both conservation and community.
Minderhout’s book Native Americans in the Susquehanna River Valley, Past and Present is the first of this series to be published. What other aspects of life in the Susquehanna Valley would you like to see featured?
Future volumes are planned to present aspects of coal-town life, early contact between Moravians and native cultures in the Valley, its natural history, formative literary and utopian experiments, and the development of distinctive rivertown cultures. We hope to continue to include more authors from a variety of institutions, and to cover contemporary issues in the Valley as well.
What types of multimedia approaches will be developed in concert with the books?
We have been working with the “Envision the Susquehanna” initiative of the Chesapeake Conservancy (both of us serve on the initiative’s advisory board) to develop an interpretive digital atlas of the region, which will provide online resources to accompany the book series, as well as interpretive materials for the National Park Service’s national historic water trail, which now includes the Susquehanna. The inclusion of the Susquehanna in that national system last year came about partly because of the work being done at Bucknell to develop these online mapping components.
How important is this topic to the academic community and beyond? What impact do you see this series having within academia and the on the discourse of sustainable development?
To us, the series illustrates the potential for a new nexus of the humanities, environmental studies, digital research, and regional studies, which in academia can help with addressing the future of the humanities. The study of story and narrative in relation to landscape, including revived narratives of natural history, provide an opportunity for showing how the humanities on their own terms can develop models for questioning and enriching approaches to the environment, and contribute to a stronger sense of community and sustainability. The humanities, as exemplified in this series, provide a definition of sustainability that focuses on meaningfulness, in which story (as the series title suggests) is central, and can be both scholarly and accessible.
How will this series to appeal to local residents?
People in this region of all backgrounds are interested in local history, and there are aspects to those local histories that connect to one another closely and to the watershed as a whole, including often neglected historical elements such as Native American history and Native cultures as a living tradition in the Susquehanna Valley, as seen in David Minderhout’s book. We look forward to more such contributions to the series in the future, on a variety of cultures and approaches to living in a region, contributing to realization of a sustainable and meaningful landscape in our shared watershed.