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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Julie Cruikshank - Upcoming Talk

Shannon Lecture Series,
Department of History
Carleton University
Friday, September 24, 2010

JULIE CRUIKSHANK, “The Afterlives of Stories”
1:30-3:00, Paterson (PA) 303
Globally, anthropological studies of oral tradition and narrative now
emphasize the human agency of narrators and the diverse strategies they
employ in specific times and locations. I will discuss successive versions
of one story that Angela Sidney, a senior storyteller from the Yukon
Territory, told in several contexts to differing audiences over five
decades. Her intentional deployment of this narrative to comment on social
relations in a modernizing world conveys her sharp insights about her
changing subject position over time. She further acknowledges how
conflict, consensus and hierarchy enter into historical representations.
Almost two decades after her life ended, her story has a continuing social
life in public commentary on northern Canadian land claims and
self-governance agreements. Audiences take with them elements of her
narrative, flesh them out and apply them to new contexts. The
‘afterlives’ of her narrative, I argue, direct us to think about the
contribution of local social theories to scholarly narratives.

Julie Cruikshank is professor emerita in the Department of Anthropology
and Sociology at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of
Life Lived Like a Story (winner of the 1992 Macdonald Prize); Reading
Voices; and The Social Life of Stories.

Her research focuses on practical and theoretical developments in oral
tradition studies, specifically how competing forms of knowledge become
enmeshed in struggles for legitimacy. Julie’s ethnographic experience
is rooted in the Yukon Territory, where she lived and worked for many
years recording life stories with Athapaskan and Tlingit elders. She has
also carried out comparative research in Alaska and Siberia. She is
presently investigating historical and contemporary encounters among
environmental earth sciences and indigenous oral traditions within the
recently designated World Heritage Site that spans the borderlands of
Yukon, northwest British Columbia and Alaska.

Her most recent book, Do Glaciers Listen? Local Knowledge, Colonial
Encounters and Social Imagination, was the recipient of a 2006 Clio Award
(Canadian Historical Association), Winner 2006 Victor Turner Prize in
Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology. Winner, 2006
Julian Steward Award, American Anthropological Association, Winner, 2005
K.D. Srivastava Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Publishing

Do Glaciers Listen? explores the conflicting depictions of glaciers to
show how natural and cultural histories are objectively entangled in the
Mount Saint Elias ranges. This rugged area, where Alaska, British
Columbia, and the Yukon Territory now meet, underwent significant
geophysical change in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which
coincided with dramatic social upheaval resulting from European
exploration and increased travel and trade among Aboriginal peoples.

European visitors brought with them varying conceptions of nature as
sublime, as spiritual, or as a resource for human progress. They saw
glaciers as inanimate, subject to empirical investigation and measurement.
Aboriginal oral histories, conversely, described glaciers as sentient,
animate, and quick to respond to human behaviour. In each case, however,
the experiences and ideas surrounding glaciers were incorporated into
interpretations of social relations.

Focusing on these contrasting views during the late stages of the Little
Ice Age (1550-1900), Cruikshank demonstrates how local knowledge is
produced, rather than discovered, through colonial encounters, and how it
often conjoins social and biophysical processes. She then traces how the
divergent views weave through contemporary debates about cultural meanings
as well as current discussions about protected areas, parks, and the new
World Heritage site. Readers interested in anthropology and Native and
northern studies will find this a fascinating read and a rich addition to
circumpolar literature.

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