In the United States, our national historical narrative centers around the story of European arrival and westward movement. It tends to include peoples and events seen as integral to the mainstream story line and to exclude or minimize those who are not. American Indians have often been presented as obstacles to American progress, or as earlier versions of human beings on the evolutionary scale.
Until 2008, the Virginia Standards of Learning that addressed American Indian topics were written in past tense, leading students to believe that Indians no longer exist as contemporary Americans. Typical language read: “Indians wore buckskin. They hunted and fished. They lived in teepees, pueblos, or wigwams.” The Standards referenced Pocahontas but not her father, Powhatan.
Images of Virginia Indians were frozen in the past.
Today’s teachers rely on primary sources to help tell the story of Virginia and the nation. Virginia Indian primary sources are few, because their history was transmitted orally, and few drawings or documents have survived. The Virginia Indian Archive helps to redress this historical omission by gathering available images and other primary sources together and making them accessible to tribes, students, researchers, and the public.
With funding from Dominion Resources and the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, and in partnership with Encyclopedia Virginia , the Virginia Indian Archive will make historic photographs, documents, oral histories, and other resources available to students, researchers, and the public not just in Virginia but throughout the world. Never before has this information been accessible to the public, and VFH is thrilled to be able to bring light to these important collections of Virginia tribes.
This project represents a collaboration between VFH’s Encyclopedia Virginia and Virginia Indian Programs and is just one of the recent digital humanities projects happening at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Research shows that more than 74 percent of teachers rely on the internet for material to help them form their lesson plans. Endeavors like the Virginia Indian Archive provide the accurate and accessible information that educators need.
The Virginia Indian Archive project was launched in March at a VFH event hosted by Bob and Liz Blue and Chris and Ashley Peace. We look forward to public launches across Virginia this summer.