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Summer Graduate Humanities Internship allows Justin Power to research dissertation

Justin Power, a fourth year Ph.D. candidate, spent this past summer researching at the Pequot Museum, through a program known as the Graduate Humanities Internship. This program not only provided him hands on experience in archives, it also allowed him the perfect opportunity to conduct research for his dissertation.

The internship provided Power access to the archives and built upon his research, which studies wampum, shell beads used in a variety of ways by indigenous peoples. While he researched, he organized the archives, pulling his information on wampum beads and the Pequot tribes and consolidating the collection. The Pequot museum holds colonial records that mention wampum, and Power found quite a bit of useful information.

Power also participated in archeological digs conducted by the research department at the museum, uncovering and analyzing new artifacts relevant to the Pequot Tribe. He spent a total of six weeks at the museum and archeological digs before beginning four weeks researching at other sites in New England.

He discovered that the economic uses of the beads were very important to the Pequots. In trying to isolate individual players in the economic trade, he turned to oral traditions and oral histories, including meeting with the current Wampum maker in the Narraganset tribe.

This research experience guided him in refocusing his dissertation. He had gone into the summer with an idea on what he would find and how he would use the evidence; however, he had to reassess after working with the sources.

“You have to do what evidence dictates,” Power said.

Previously, Power had not dedicated much room in his dissertation to the economic power of wampum. He wanted to steer away from colonial aspects, and economics and trade were very colonial. He shared the account of the Dutch meeting the Pequot tribe which perpetuated the idea that the beads were ‘Indian money’. The Dutch kidnapped the chief and said they would cut off his head unless they paid a ransom, and the Indians brought beads in exchange for their chief. The Dutch took the beads back to Europe and told others that they were “Indian money.” The economic use of the beads is thus associated with colonial trade.

Yet, Power stresses that the wampum are used in complex ways, different from culture to cultures.

Power plans to continue to develop and write his dissertation in the coming year. Last summer was a valuable step in research collection in this process. We look forward to seeing the final product!