As my friends read their Christmas presents, a few have sent me their synopsis of the books they’ve read. Here is the first guest blog of what I hope will be many more contributions to this year’s theme – Which ideas Change us and Why?
Entry from Professor Tom:
For Christmas I received Shadow Catcher, by Charles Fergus (1993). Had never heard of it or him. The book is a novel closely based on an obscure (nowadays) event in relations between white America and the original inhabitants of this land. In 1913 a department store magnate bankrolled an “expedition” that encouraged reservation indians to seek US citizenship. That was in the context of the magnate’s plan to build a huge statue of the “vanishing indian” in NY harbor; intentionally smaller than the statue of liberty (to symbolize the presumptive smallness of indians as a “race”). Ground was actually broken on this project but it fell apart when WWI broke out – a rare positive effect of that conflagration.
Anyway, the book is about people on the expedition, which traveled the rails all over the west trying to get indians to kiss the US flag. As if that weren’t enough, the book is also about photography and the nature of photography – what photographs mean, what they tell us about people, and so on. This because a large part of the expedition was to photograph the “vanishing” indians. A book of photographs was published, still highly regarded (for the photographs, not for the politics), called “the vanishing race”.
Not for everyone, but quite interesting if you’re into US history, or photography, or larger questions about representation and interpretation. Quite a good book for thoughtful young adults.