While there were many exceptional papers to select from at this years conference, only a few could be presented awards. Alex Burns and Lisa Mercer each received the Outstanding Graduate Paper award, and Jennifer Collins received the Outstanding Undergraduate Paper award. These students demonstrated their ability to look at historical events and help us to re-evaluate how we view them.
Lisa Mercer presented her research, “Ingrained Beliefs: Wheat and French Identity on the American Maizescape, 1555-1740.” She argued that the cultural and religious importance of wheat to the French resulted in misunderstandings between the French and Native Americans in the early days of American colonization. Even before the dominance of Christianity in France, wheat was an important pagan symbol. After the advent of Christianity, the pagan “wheat mother” became the Christian “Holy Mother” and the Eucharist was made from wheat. The importance of wheat to the French led to their disdain for the Native American’s maize (corn) when they came to the New World. The French went as far as to call Native American’s “barbaric” for their use of maize rather than wheat. The French went to great lengths to have access to wheat in the New World, and their strong feelings about wheat caused Native Americans of the period to develop a prejudice against wheat. Wheat was at the heart of several culture misunderstandings between the two groups, and it’s importance to the French impacted how they interacted with the Native Americans in the New World.
Alex Burns’s topic also related to the interaction between Americans and foreign born individuals. His topic moves us forward to the world of the Enlightenment. Alex presented, “We are all made by the same God: The Outlook of the Subsidientruppen on Enslaved Africans in Colonial American.” He discussed the distaste the German soldiers, and to a lesser extent, Enlightenment thinkers had for the American version of slavery. He argued that German’s were against slavery due to their Christian beliefs. In the minds of the German soldiers all people were made by God, and as a result it was immoral for any person to be treated the way American’s treated their slaves. The German’s also disagreed with the slaves being deprived of both a Christian and/or a secular education. Enlightenment thinkers also disagreed with slavery, but to a lesser extent then the German soldiers. These thinkers focused on the rights of man philosophy but were not as strong in their convictions. The German soldiers’ Christian values strongly influenced their feelings about the American practice of slavery.
We move forward again in time with Jennifer Collins’s presentation, “Beyond the Pale: A History of Interracial Relationships in Indiana.” In the early days of American history, white indentured servants and black slaves were treated in similar fashions. As a result, these two groups often banded together supporting and encouraging each other. The resulting bonds between these two groups were viewed as unacceptable and to prevent intermingling between white indenture servants and black slaves new laws were implemented to prevent them from marrying each other. Entering the modern era, Indiana has some of the harshest punishments for people in interracial relationships. As the Civil Rights Movement led to the end of these laws, socially it was still unacceptable. Even today, there are people in Indiana who still feel that people in interracial marriages and relationships should be rejected.