SALE! Save 40% on UNC Press print books during our American History Sale with discount code 01DAH40. See details.

SALE! Save 40% on UNC Press print books during our American History Sale with discount code 01DAH40. See details.

Monumental Mobility

The Memory Work of Massasoit

By Lisa Blee, Jean M. O'Brien

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 50 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4840-8
    Published: March 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4839-2
    Published: March 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4841-5
    Published: February 2019

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Installed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1921 to commemorate the tercentenary of the landing of the Pilgrims, Cyrus Dallin's statue Massasoit was intended to memorialize the Pokanoket Massasoit (leader) as a welcoming diplomat and participant in the mythical first Thanksgiving. But after the statue's unveiling, Massasoit began to move and proliferate in ways one would not expect of generally stationary monuments tethered to place. The plaster model was donated to the artist's home state of Utah and prominently displayed in the state capitol; half a century later, it was caught up in a surprising case of fraud in the fine arts market. Versions of the statue now stand on Brigham Young University's campus; at an urban intersection in Kansas City, Missouri; and in countless homes around the world in the form of souvenir statuettes.

As Lisa Blee and Jean M. O’Brien show in this thought-provoking book, the surprising story of this monumental statue reveals much about the process of creating, commodifying, and reinforcing the historical memory of Indigenous people. Dallin's statue, set alongside the historical memory of the actual Massasoit and his mythic collaboration with the Pilgrims, shows otherwise hidden dimensions of American memorial culture: an elasticity of historical imagination, a tight-knit relationship between consumption and commemoration, and the twin impulses to sanitize and grapple with the meaning of settler-colonialism.

About the Authors

Lisa Blee is associate professor of history at Wake Forest University.
For more information about Lisa Blee, visit the Author Page.

Jean M. O'Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) is the Distinguished McKnight University Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.
For more information about Jean M. O'Brien, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"This engaging book draws readers into a fascinating story that will help them make sense of collective narratives regarding nature, nationalism, 'Indians,' and the role of monuments. It is a truly enjoyable read, a book that provokes curiosity and a desire to unpack and understand."--Lisa Brooks, Amherst College

"Blee and O'Brien take up important issues like the relationship of public art and public history with the history and visibility of Indigeneity in American public spaces. Ultimately, they reveal that Massasoit cannot, in fact, be owned or controlled. He can be found in sculptural form all over the country, but his historical meaning is much more unstable. This is what America's foundational history and memory is really all about."--Erika Doss, University of Notre Dame