Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies Initiative

One of the items that will be appearing in the Indian Papers Collection is a copy of Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies that Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library owns.  Published in 1845, the work is possibly the earliest musical publication by a Native American composer.

Commuck was a Narragansett from Charlestown, Rhode Island, who joined the Brothertown community in New York and then removed with his Eastern Pequot wife to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he became the tribe’s postmaster, justice of the peace, and historian.  In 1844, the Wisconsin Whig Party had nominated him as their candidate for the Territory’s House of Representatives.

Since Commuck’s hymn book consists of pages of shape note music, it presented a question for the Editors as how to annotate it properly.  Our inclination was to have the music sung so people (especially the non-musically inclined who can’t read music) could hear what Commuck’s audiences would have heard.

To accomplish this task, a number of students from Yale’s Divinity School and Institute of Sacred Music, together with members of the Shape Note community have joined us in an endeavor to perform and record a number of Commuck’s melodies to be attached to the photographic images on our web platform, as well as to provide scholarly music and historical commentary.

YIPP’s ethical and professional practice is to ask permission of the relevant communities before such initiatives are begun and offer participation in the endeavor.   Since Commuck was a member of the Wisconsin Brothertown community, we reached out to the Brothertown Tribal Council and Cultural Committee, who responded very positively.

In a series of emails, phone conversations, and teleconferencing between the Editors, students, tribal community representatives, and Shape Note community scholars, we have arranged for a Singing and Sharing of Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies.

Songs from Indian Melodies will be interwoven with reflections on the history of the Brothertown Indian Nation and the social, musical and historical context of Commuck’s music. The singing will be recorded and the day’s events documented. Copies of the recordings and documents will be made available at the Brothertown Indian Nation archives and the Yale Indian Papers Project.

We welcome the attendance of members of the Brothertown Indian Nation, local Native communities, shape note singers, and all who feel moved to share this day with us. We hope that as we sing and listen and learn together with friends old and new, we can foster relationships among our communities.


Thanksgiving 2017

For most of us, Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow.  A time when we remember family, friends, and the good things that have happened throughout the year.

But for our friends and colleagues in the Mohegan Tribe, you could say that a long-awaited thanksgiving happened last Friday in the Corporation Room of Yale’s Woodbridge Hall.  There, after decades of discussion and negotiation, Yale University and Mohegan officials signed an agreement to return hundreds of Mohegan cultural items once part of the collections at the Peabody Museum.

Objects include a wooden doll, a mortar, archaeological artifacts collected from Grand Sachem Uncas’ Fort Shantock in Uncasville, CT, and an 18th-Century wooden succotash bowl that once belonged to Lucy Occum (1731-1830), the sister of Samson Occom.

As Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba explained “Today we celebrate an exciting moment in the long-standing relationship between Yale and the Mohegan Tribe.  This transfer completes a sacred circle for us. The Mohegan people are now able to welcome the spirits of Chief Uncas and Lucy Occum home with the return of these significant cultural objects. We are joyous at the return of these spiritual objects and thank Yale University and the Peabody Museum for their thoughtfulness in creating this unique opportunity.”

After the signing of the agreement, the Mohegans presented President Peter Salovey with a contemporary wampum burl bowl crafted by tribal community member Justin Scott.

Congratulations to all of the Mohegan community.


Photographs of Chief Malerba and President Salovey and the Justin Scott bowl by Mara Levitt, Yale News.  Photograph of Lucy Occum bowl courtesy of Peabody Museum, Yale University.


Welcome to Our New Hub IT Manager

My name is Brian Kitano, and I’m a junior at Yale University studying Statistics and Data Science. My experience in cultural heritage preservation as a field archaeologist drove me towards YIPP, where I can combine my passion for computer science and history. I’m a nascent full-stack developer in NodeJS and React, but also work in data analytics and artificial intelligence in Python, and am eager to bring my complementary skills to the Yale Indian Papers Project.

— Brian is funded through the generosity of the Beinecke Library in association with Washington State University’s IMLS National Leadership Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes Grant.

Teachers Workshop: Investigating 17th Century New England Indian Slavery Through Primary Source Materials

On July 14th and 28th, Indian Papers Project editors, Paul Grant-Costa and Tobias Glaza, participated in Mapping a New World, an NEH-sponsored Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop for School Teachers.

The gathering, held at Boston Harbor/Deer Island and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at Boston Public Library, was part of a week-long study of places of conflict and colonization in the 17th-Century.  Other sessions were held at Plimoth Plantation, the Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.  In the July 14th workshop, teachers were drawn from all parts of the country. In the 28th, they came from schools in Massachusetts.

In the Indian Papers Project Workshop, teachers visually explored Deer Island and the other islands of Boston Harbor where anywhere from 750 to 1065 Native people were confined in the winter of 1675 during King Philip’s War.  In a classroom setting, they also investigated the war and its consequential slavery of Native bodies through the primary source petitions to the Massachusetts General Court of a number of individuals: colonists, a representative of Empire, and several Native leaders.

Broken into five groups, participants encountered one specific historical person’s voice with the relevant documents in multiple forms — photocopies, digital surrogates, and then Indian Papers Project typographical transcriptions and regularized annotated texts.  After reading the petitions and getting a better sense of the petitioner and his or her concerns, the teachers formed new groups with representatives from each of the five groups and role-played how each historical person might have responded to the others’ requests.

The tasks, which sometimes tested their paleographic skills and kindled their imaginations, were designed to provide an experience of scholarly inquiry through original materials in the New England Indian Papers Series’ collection and an insight into the multiple perspectives on identity, colonialism, international enslavement, and imperialism.

A wrap-up session solicited ideas on how the teachers might use the exercise in their own classes.


Welcome to Our New Consulting Editor

Please welcome a new member of our editorial team, Julie Fisher.

Julie holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Delaware with a focus on Early American and Native American history. Her research centers on English-colonial politics, language acquisition, and borderland communities. She is the co-author of Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country, which appeared with Cornell University Press in 2014. Building on this work, she is now editing a collection of letters by Rhode Island’s founder, Roger William, that highlight Williams’ role as a skilled bilingual and formative political actor in Indian-English politics.

Julie will serve as a consulting editor, assisting Project editors with transcribing materials from the Massachusetts Archives during the NHPRC and NEH grant periods.