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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 24, 2004 - Issue 105


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SPC History Professor Signs Contract with Prentice Hall

by Dianne Whisenand, SPC

Dr. Laura Graves, professor of history and government at South Plains College, has signed a contract with Prentice Hall as senior author for the nation's first undergraduate American history textbook written from an American Indian perspective.

Prentice-Hall is the world leader in publishing academic and reference textbooks. The book is groundbreaking in many ways. It will be the first true textbook for courses on Native American history, putting the Indian perspective in the forefront. And the text will focus on ordinary people, rather than traditional figures of political and economic influence, allowing the John Does of this world to tell much of the story in their own words.

The book breaks tradition in another way. It is rare for a community college professor, rather than a faculty member at a university, to be asked to head such a prestigious project. Dr. Graves had worked with Prentice Hall on several other projects and has written an award-winning biography of an Indian trader for Oklahoma University Press.

"We are delighted to have Laura Graves spearheading this new important history project for Prentice Hall," said Charles Cavaliere, senior acquisitions editor, history, for the publishing firm. "Laura is exceptionally qualified to lead this project, both as a scholar and as a teacher."

"I've always wanted to do this," said Dr. Graves, who has taught 11 years at SPC. "You teach from other people's books, and you think if this were mine, I would do it this way. She got her chance at a publishers' meeting. Two years ago, Dr. Graves had completed an instructors manual, study guide and Texas component for Prentice Hall's American history survey, Boydston's Making of America. "I met with the acquisitions editor for history material, and we were talking about different projects I could do for them. I had finished this one and they wanted me to continue to do work for them. We tossed around some different ideas. I said, 'This may sound real presumptuous because I am not a big name, but I would really like to write an American History Indian textbook.' He said great. We walked out there where angels fear to tread." Dr. Graves then spent the next year preparing a detailed proposal and finding three other authors to write different sections of the textbook.

Dr. Graves will write the first half of the book from prehistoric times til about 1900. Ken Townsend, a professor at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, S.C., will serve as second primary author, writing the second half of the textbook. He has written a book on Indians in World War II.

Dr. Vickie Sutton, director of the Texas Tech University School of Law and a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe (from South Carolina), will cover Indian law. "I was intrigued by Laura's suggestion that she wanted to embark on a new way of looking at American history and American Indian history," said Dr. Sutton. "I was also surprised there had not been a history book written for undergraduates from a Native American perspective."

Lomayumtewa Ishii, a Hopi Indian, will represent the Indian voices in the book. In a departure from traditional history texts, he will begin each chapter with a biographical sketch of a person and will use that person's words and life to illustrate different concepts in each chapter.

"Our focus is to bring people to the forefront in this book, as opposed to the traditional way of keeping common ordinary people in the background," explained Dr. Graves. "We are not all Sitting Bulls and George Washingtons, not all important, influential powerful people. We are just common ordinary people who raise kids, go to work, do the things we do every day. Prentice Hall is very interested in helping students engage with people just like themselves."

Their deadline to have a completed textbook in the hands of Prentice Hall is Jan. 15, 2006.

Dr. Graves has been interested in history since she was a child growing up in Ozona, Texas. Her great-grandmother was the first white woman in the Transpecos region of Texas and moved to Crockett County in 1876. Dr. Graves grew up listening to stories told by her father about the pioneer. Another woman named Mrs. James came to her family's home selling fabric when Dr. Graves was a little girl. "She would tell me stories about growing up in Quanah, Texas, when Quanah Parker was there, riding into town on his big horse. I am sure my eyes were as big as saucers," recalled the historian. "Most kids grow out of that, but I never did."

She earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology and English in 1975 and a master's degree in museum science and anthropology in 1977 from Texas Tech University. Dr. Graves later served as museum director for Arkansas State Parks, curator of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, taught part-time at Northern Arizona University and at two California community colleges. She earned a PHD in history and government in 1992 at Northern Arizona University and joined SPC that year.

She has written a book, Contemporary Hopi Pottery, for the Museum of Northern Arizona, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and helped produce Apache Gaming: Betting on the Past, a video documentary for the Mesa Southwest Museum Mesa, Az. Her biography, Thomas Varker Keam, Indian Trader:University of Oklahoma Press, won the 1997-98 Angie Debo Prize as the best book published that year by the university about the American Southwest.

Dr. Graves looks forward to her new project and the implications it could have on future American history texts.

"The folks at Prentice Hall are very excited and they are very generous. It is a tremendous investment for them," said Dr. Graves.

She hopes that the textbook she has embarked on will serve as a benchmark for future books about American Indian history.

"I hope that 20 years from now, some professor sitting in an office will say well, Graves' book was good for 10 years, now we are going to write a new one. I think that readers will realize that not only has there been an incredible past that goes back thousands of years but there is also an incredible future for Native Americans."

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