Ask the Experts: Katie Faull on Moravian, Native American history
February 10, 2011
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Professor of German and Humanities Katie Faull discusses Moravian settlers who formed an unlikely alliance with Iroquois nations and the rich history of the Susquehanna Valley.
Q: You have received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for your collaborative research and translations of the 18th-century diaries of Moravian settlers in the area now known as Sunbury. The Moravians formed an unlikely alliance with the Iroquois nations. What are some of the revelations from these diaries?
A: One of the fascinating revelations of the work translating the diaries has been to look at the nature of characters from the 18th century who normally would never have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the 21st century, one of them being the Iroquois chief, Shikellamy. As I am reading the diaries, these characters who lived here and who worked closely with one another emerge as real people, not just as names in a history book.
One of the other fascinating things is to look at the way in which the relations between the native women and European women were ones of great friendship and intimacy. You will find presents being exchanged, blouses being made and exchanged and moccasins given by a Mohican woman to one of the Moravian women as a sign of affection and respect. Those kinds of details remove this from merely the realm of political or colonial history and bring it into the present day.
Another thing that has been really wonderful is to bring the Onondaga language back to life. I met with the chief of the Iroquois nations recently. One of the documents I have from the diaries is a letter written in Onondaga to Chief Shikellamy in the 18th century. It's very hard to find documents written in the languages that are no longer used very much. Onondaga is used primarily in ceremonies and blessing for the Iroquois. I gave the chief of the Iroquois this three-page letter written in Onondaga, which for him is a wonderful document of his cultural and linguistic past.
Q: How did you become interested in this project, and what does your research entail?
A: I am not by training a Native American specialist, although I've been working on Native American interactions with Europeans for about 12 years through the Moravians. My research had previously focused on the memoirs of the women missionaries and the linguistic skills of the women missionaries.
I did not know too much about this particular Moravian mission in (Sunbury) until a student, Jenny Stevens (Class of '07), asked me about it a few years ago. I went and looked up that mission diary in the archives in Bethlehem, and that's how that project came about.
Some of the diaries are missing, and that's still sort of a detective game to try to figure out where they went. Some of the parts went to the archives in Germany. Some of them were incorporated into reports to the community in Bethlehem. Most of it has been reconstructed into one particular diary, but it is all written in manuscript. It's not published or even transcribed, so that's a long process. In some places, the diary is in quite bad condition, so you have to be very careful when using it. I took digital photographs of the whole thing so I can look at them on the screen.
Another project I am doing is in the North Branch of the Susquehanna Valley. There was a mission called Friedenshutten, which is in present-day Wyalusing, Pa, and one of the things I have done is to work with the local people to publish a map of the settlement area.
I am working with one of my students, Emily Bitely (Class of '11), to put together multi-layered maps of the area using the antiquarian map as a base layer and superimposing information from archaeological sites and Indian paths. We were able to collate on one particular map an enormous amount of information and reconstruct landscapes from the 18th century.
We also are connecting this historical data with the Marcellus Shale drilling data. One of the layers we put in that historical map of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River was all of the oil and gas wells and pipelines. It's quite a shock because you realize there are these historical places where wells are being drilled and pipelines being laid. The communities I have worked with are very excited to have this kind of knowledge because it is harder to do those things when you see that these places are a real part of American history.
Q: As the first distinguished scholar of Bucknell's Environmental Center, you have been involved in an effort to uncover some of the little-known history of the area surrounding the Susquehanna River. What are the goals of the "Cultures at the Confluence" project and why is it important to learn more about this rich history?
A: "Cultures at the Confluence" is an umbrella term for a multi-pronged research effort through the Nature and Human Communities Initiative of the Environmental Center at Bucknell. Many people think of Environmental Studies as having to do with water quality and air quality, but the human environment is much broader than that, and environmental, cultural and historical concerns are closely related with one another. || See Related Video
What may seem to be esoteric work about things that happened 270 years ago is actually very culturally relevant in terms of the linguistics and cultural heritage of the native peoples and also the political and cultural implications of the Marcellus Shale, for instance. There is a piece of the puzzle that's been missing and that's the human impact on, and interaction with, the environment. To go back to the Marcellus Shale issue, if you destroy or radically change the shape of the landscape that people have lived in or have identified with for generations, what happens to those human beings' concept of who they are?
When I look at the landscape of this area, when I look at the hills, the mountains and the valleys, those are markers. They mean something. They are not just there as an aesthetic experience. I know that we are going in the right direction because in the distance I can see this one particular mountain, and I know that that is the right way to go. That changes the way you read the landscape.
I have been very lucky to expand not only my own understanding of where and how I live but to work together with different constituencies, the Native American constituency, the students here at Bucknell and also the people in local communities to open that new dimension. What has been very gratifying is that people have been able to say that this is useful knowledge, this is important and this is not just relegated to folklore.
Q: Part of the "Cultures" project involved examining petroglyphs or stone carvings presumably left by the Algonquin people near Safe Harbor dam more than 1,000 years ago. What are some of the more notable petroglyphs, where are they and what is their significance?
A: In that particular group of petroglyphs, just below Safe Harbor Dam on the lower Susquehanna River, there is Big Indian Rock and Little Indian Rock. Paul Nevin, the local expert on the petroglyphs, showed us how they are linked to sunrise and sunset.
Some of the largest carvings in the stones were the thunderbird and the Manitou, so there is this idea of the presence of a deity or a god. There also are human figures, footprints, snakes and lots of animals such as deer and beaver.
What Paul Nevin has done is to sort of recreate a narrative that might fit in with the placement of the different carvings on the rock. He tries to place his feet in the footprints to show that maybe this is a path that leads to the place where you would pray or make a blessing to the creator.
Seeing these carvings that were made 1,000 years ago really does make you want to ask who is it who created these images, why are they there in that particular place, what kind of story are they telling? Human beings like to make sense out of things, and so we create a story out of what seem to be random marks in rock.
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