Surface and Depth: Some Methodological Problems with Bringing Native American-Centered Histories to Light


During the late 1980s, a group of scholars collaborated in an effort to explore how well historians had rendered Native American history.’ The scholars split between empirical and experiential positions. Empiricists took the view that historians could use data, more or less neutrally, to draw inferences about Native American life and experience in the United States. Experientialists maintained that in order to describe or analyze Native American experience, historians had to identify and incorporate Native American ways of knowing into their narratives. While empiricists regarded experientially derived knowledge as potentially biased, unreliable, and unverifiable, experientialists treated empirically derived accounts of Native American life as inaccurate and incomplete. At its core, Exiled in the Land of the Free’ continues this debate.

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