Nichole Ballard on libraries and indigenous cultural knowledge


Religious Studies MA student Nichole Ballard attended a Newberry Library Conference in Chicago recently. Here are her reflections: 


Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Newberry Library conference “Reading the Ministries in the Americas” held in Chicago this past week. Over the course of three days, scholars from the US, UK, and South America joined Newberry library researchers and librarians to explore new ways of understanding the significance of studying books and collections of books in early modern period in the Americas. I connected with several scholars with similar academic interests and whom shared valuable resources I am excited to explore. I was also able to participate in the part of a graduate workshop on reconstructing early modern libraries because of financial support from the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies Consortium Travel Grant. 

The scholarship on Native Americans’ use of books as a way to engage with coloniality through strategic placement of Native American authored works within the ciruculation of books was especially exciting. Thinking through process of collecting and the networks these early books travel (historically and presently) opens up innovative perspectives on material culture and salvage anthropology research. This understanding of the role of circulation of materials and objects presented at the conference has already influenced my research of Hallie Cordle, a Bureau of Indian Affairs school teacher within a Native American school in Alaska, and her donation of Indigenous objects to the University of Missouri’s Museum of Anthropology. Because of the conference my research will further explore the means by which these objects were acquired in order to gain new insights on the Indigenous perspective of the collection of Hallie Cordle. Conversations with the scholars at the conference have sparked new questions into my research, such as if those from whom Hallie purchased/acquired items aware of these circulation networks, and if so, were they strategically engaging with collecting practices of salvage anthropology in Alaska at the time? 

Additionally, we can learn more about the nature of the sacred within early and modern civil religion by investigating the intersectionality that exists between religious institutions and anthropologists through collections networks and sacred spaces such as museums and libraries. How knowledge continues to be categorized and held within these institutions with a lack of consideration and incorporation for indigenous cultural knowledge in the library cataloguing systems are new avenues of inquiry for my future research as a result of my time at the Newberry conference.