Spring 2019

Natives in Transit: Indian Entertainment, Urban Life, and Activism, 1930-1970

Listed in: , as COLQ-246


Andy Anderson (Section 01)
Patricia J. Bachand (Section 01)
Kiara M. Vigil (Section 01)


This class takes Los Angeles and New York as case studies for tracing different histories related to Native Americans, urbanism, and entertainment. So students can engage a range of interdisciplinary strategies for studying Native American migration in the twentieth century we will draw on materials from the Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection to practice developing researchable questions. Students will also assist in conducting primary research and data gathering related to Native American actors and entertainers to shed light on the lives they led off-screen and off-stage while they worked in Los Angeles and New York City. To ground our discussions and approach to research students will read secondary sources about the history of Native performance in the United States, especially in relation to cinema. There may be some ethnographic work as well and an introduction to methods from oral history. The main aim of this research tutorial is to have students focus on the ways in which Native people have participated in the film industry as laborers and shapers of culture, and since there are no “official” archives left to us by Native entertainers much of what students will learn is how to conduct research based on clues from a diverse array of sources. For example, by examining articles from Variety, catalogs from the American Film Institute, and papers from social reform institutions, like the L.A. Indian Center and the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York City, students will begin to piece together a meaningful understanding of Native people as actors and activists during the twentieth century. Students who can be in residence for part of the summer following the tutorial will visit archives in New York related to the AICH—a non-profit organization that has served the health, social service, and cultural needs of Native Americans in the city since 1969. Additional work over the summer will involve visualization tools from the Digital Humanities, like Gephi, so students can demonstrate what they have learned about the many Native entertainment and activist networks that existed in L.A. and NYC.

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Vigil.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to American studies majors, then students completing the Five College Certificate in Native American and Indigenous Studies.


Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Research, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020