Ethnography and the Production of Foreignness in Indian Captivity Narratives

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Abstract

Since studies of Native American cultures have long been entangled in ethnographic discourse, it's not surprising that ethnography has entered literary and historical discussions of Indian captivity narratives. Ethnography has been perceived as a discursive bridge between different cultures, and captivity narratives' settings-despite their wide geographic distribution-have almost invariably been imagined as contact zones that forced hitherto foreigners into uneasy familiarity.' In the case of Indian captivity narratives, this motif of encounter or "middle ground" was coupled with claims for the texts' "ethnographic" components, suggesting that these accounts could be read as sources of information on Native American cultures.' The claim has seldom been supported by interdisciplinary engagement with anthropology, and in many readings any depiction of things Native American seems to qualify as "ethnographic." In her fascinating discussion of authorship in Susanna Johnson's captivity narrative, for example, Lorrayne Carroll writes that the text "interpolates footnotes, letters from colonial authorities, and ethnographic details."' While footnotes and letters are distinguished from the rest of the narrative's prose, "ethnographic details" are not marked as such.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-32
JournalThe American Indian Quarterly
Volume32
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2008

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