Saturday, October 13, 2007

The 47th Annual Conference of the Western History Association

I am recently back from the 47th Annual Conference of the Western History Association in Oklahoma City. I was on the panel "Shamans and Showmen: Decolonizing the Indians of Buffalo Bill and Edward Curtis." The panel was organized by Kevin Shupe, a dissertating grad students at George Mason University. Kevin presented a clever paper ”Selling Geronimo at the 1901 Pan-American Expositon.” Dee Garceau of Rhodes College presented "Edward Curtis Photographs, 1899-1910: Challenges of Museum Interpretation." My paper was ”Joseph’s Funeral: Edward Curtis versus the Indians of the Pacific Northwest.” Michael Holloman, the Director of the Center for Plateau Cultural Studies at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, provided introductions and commentary. (I would simply link to the conference schedule but this year it is not online--tsk tsk.)

The panel was well-received and I thought hung together very well--though Dee and I, by presenting similarly-themed papers, rather stole the show from poor Kevin, the hard-working graduate student who pulled the whole thing together. Let that be an object lesson to you, Kevin.

I love the WHA and it was great to meet so many old friends, people whose work I admire, and bright young scholars doing exciting work. And I liked the new format of the meeting, with the awards at lunch and the evening banquet less stodgy. And above all it is good to see that the obnoxious Green River Knife tradition is gone forever. God that used to make me cringe!


Bill Youngs said...

Larry, I may have missed something, and it may be a good thing that I missed it! But what is the "green river knife tradition"? Bill

Larry Cebula said...

Bill: The Green River Knife was a ceremonial plaque with a supposed replica of a "scalping knife" on it, given to the incoming WHA president at one of the conference banquets. The knife was "awarded" by some guy who ran a wild game restaurant in Colorado or somewhere. He would come up to the podium, dressed in weird garb supposedly like a mountain man, and lead the assembled historians in a recitation of the "Mountain Man Oath:"

"Here's to the chiles whats come afore,
And here's to the pilgrims whats come arter!
May your trails be free of griz
An' your packs full o' plews
And fat buffler in your pot.
WAUGH!!! "

This complete with strange vigorous hand gestures. The assembled historians were supposed to stand up and recite the oath along with the goof ball guy, copying his waving of arms and such. It was a weird tradition going back to when the WHA was more of a history buffs club.

I first ran into the tradition in San Diego in the 1990s and it was a real WTF moment. I and the other new people looked back and forth at one another trying to figure out if this was really happening and what the hell it meant.

There was a fair bit of controversy over the oath with some calling it racist, though I am not sure how they got to that conclusion. My own opinion was that an invented historical oath had no place at a historians conference, especially accompanied by such an imaginary beast as a "scalping knife." (There was never such a thing.)

And there is a long answer to your short question!