Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
Negotiations between Shell and Paper: Wampum Belts as Agents of Seventeenth-Century Religious Diplomacy

In a dialogue between the material and the textual, can objects speak over texts? This project examines the devotional wampum belts produced as cross-cultural mediators between Catholic ecclesiastics and Indigenous people in Northeastern America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Following Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Abenaki epistemologies, wampum belts have been considered as both symbols of Native American and First Nations sovereignty, and as non-human beings doted with agency and willpower. When Indigenous converts to Catholicism sent wampum belts to religious communities in France, Belgium, and Italy, these objects embodied diplomatic requests presented to Christian deities worshipped at these sites. Did these wampum belts function as independent diplomatic agents, without the presence of Indigenous interpreters? I suggest that there may be heretofore unexamined messages embedded in the material and documentary record that reveal the agency and potency of these objects. Closer engagements with wampum materiality can offer insights that were previously neglected in the numerous historical studies of Jesuit-Indigenous relations. To discern this, I will examine construction techniques that may reveal Indigenous makers' agency in articulating political demands, while consulting with the Indigenous communities in Canada who created these wampum belts, to assess how wampum messaging impacts the consciousness of humans around it.