Senior Honors Thesis Topic Statement

Back in February I was thinking about potential topics for writing a senior thesis, and wrote this post about how I could do something relating to education. Then in April I predicted I would write a thesis, but through most of the summer I thought I probably wouldn't. As I revealed here, however, I finally did decide to stay at Georgetown until May and take advantage of the opportunity to write a senior honors thesis in history. So far, I have not revealed on this blog what the subject of that thesis will be—until now.

Here is my topic statement, as turned in for the thesis seminar:

Lingít ḵa Waashdan Ḵwáan
The Tlingit and the Americans: Interactions and Transformations, 1850-1900

The Tlingit people of the northern Northwest Coast interacted with Europeans from the late 1700s, participating in trade and adapting newly available technologies. The majority of Tlingit clans remained politically and economically independent from these foreigners, including would-be Russian colonizers. In 1867, however, Russia’s claim to Alaska was purchased by the United States, and within the following three decades, the social and economic foundations of many Tlingit ḵwáan* transformed in inconceivable ways. Tlingit abandoned traditional village sites and joined the settlements and industries of the Waashdan Ḵwáan—the Americans. Families became influenced by American views, and agreed to send their children to schools intended to acculturate them. Lingít Aaní** would never be the same.

My intent is to trace these transformations in Tlingit life from approximately 1850-1900, primarily through the lens of U.S. policy and government records. The fundamental potential questions of the thesis will be how Tlingit and Americans interacted before and after the Alaska Purchase, what factors drove the life-altering decisions made by Tlingit clans and individuals, and whether Americans used force and coercion to disenfranchise and acculturate the Tlingit during this period. My tentative hypothesis is that following substantial demographic shocks, heavy undermining of traditional livelihoods, and relentless cultural persecution, most Tlingit willingly submitted by 1900 to living in American-dominated communities and adapting at least partially to American ways.

* The ḵwáan (sometimes misleadingly translated as “tribe”) is a traditional division of the Tlingit, based on geographic areas in which clans were at peace with one another.
** Lingít Aaní is the land of the Tlingit—all of Southeast Alaska, in addition to portions of present-day British Columbia and Yukon.

The assignment also included a preliminary bibliography, but as that is constantly changing and already very long, I thought Iʼd leave it out. Also note that my title and everything else is tentative and will evolve over the next eight months. Let me know what you think!

(Image: Photo I took this summer at Saxman Totem Park of the top of the Seward shame pole.)