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APS Receives $1.6M Grant From The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for Native American Scholars Initiative

Pictured: 2021 NASI Interns Tieranny Keahna, Dynette Chavez, and Nancy Mendoza-Ruiz with NASI Program Director Tiffanie Hardbarger

Philadelphia [July 14, 2021]—The American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia is thrilled to announce a $1.644 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of its Native American Scholars Initiative (NASI) at the Society’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR). NASI aims to support a new generation of Native scholars and librarians, connect APS collections with indigenous communities who need the material to support their efforts at cultural revitalization, and use innovative new digital techniques to advance knowledge of and access to indigenous materials held at the APS Library.

This program, which began in 2016 with the support of a grant from the Foundation, has so far provided fellowships to six predoctoral resident fellows, five postdoctoral resident fellows, 12 undergraduate interns, and 15 Digital Knowledge Sharing fellows. NASI has also  funded programming including annual Digital Knowledge Sharing workshops and conferences that draw scholars of Native American and Indigenous studies and researchers and practitioners engaged in community based projects from across North America. The new grant funds these fellowships through 2026 and will expand the program’s reach through the creation of an innovative Career Pathways Fellowship and the hire of an Engagement Coordinator. The Career Pathways Fellowship will embed an early career scholar at a Philadelphia-area cultural institution, where they will work on a project that expands the institution’s capacity to advance Native American scholarship. The Engagement Coordinator will enhance the APS’s ability to partner with indigenous communities on community-based projects.

The NASI program is unique in bringing together Native American and Indigenous scholars at every level of their careers from undergraduate to the postdoctoral level, creating a community to share ideas from disciplines that range from anthropology to history to linguistics, and more. Dr. Tiffanie Hardbarger (Cherokee Nation), Assistant Professor of Cherokee & Indigenous Studies at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK and 2018-2019 Postdoctoral NASI Fellow, is now the 2021 NASI Program Director. Hardbarger’s work focuses on Indigenous-led community and cultural sustainability and involves close work with her home community. The year she spent as a NASI postdoctoral fellow offered invaluable opportunities that supported her research and expanded her teaching approaches by exposing her to scholars in many fields and working with archival materials.

 “My time at the APS as a postdoctoral scholar provided a deeper historical context on the constructed narratives of early America, the chance to engage with archival source materials specific to Cherokee cultural practices, and a deeper grasp on how archival materials can be utilized in contemporary community-engaged projects. I am profoundly grateful to be the 2021 NASI Program Director, where it is my honor to help provide mentorship to burgeoning Indigenous scholars,” Hardbarger said. 

NASI fellows have gone on to land posts at major research institutions, secured book contracts with academic presses including Yale University Press and the University of Alabama Press after postdoctoral fellowships, and NASI undergraduate interns have entered graduate programs in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, Library and Information Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Applied Anthropology at Northern Arizona University, and Art History at the University of Colorado.

NASI fellows and interns are granted valuable time to immerse themselves in their research and to delve into the APS collections in Native American and Indigenous languages and history. The Society’s collections in Native American languages date back to Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as APS President and continue to grow in the 21st century. They now consist of about 1,900 linear feet of manuscripts, photographs, and audiovisual materials, as well as over 5 terabytes of born-digital audiovisual and other documentary materials, relating to more than 650 Indigenous cultures of the Americas, dating from 1553 to 2020. Geographically, these materials range from throughout North America, from the Arctic to Guatemala, as well as portions of South America, the Pacific, and eastern Siberia.

Addressing the lack of diversity among library and museum professionals has long been a priority for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Programs like the NASI undergraduate internship program and the new Career Pathways Fellowship will give aspiring library and museum professionals experience at crucial points in their careers to enter these competitive fields. The American Library Association’s 2017 survey of its membership found that one percent of librarians self-identified as an American Indian or Alaskan Native. U.S. Census data shows that less than one percent of Americans employed as archivists, curators, or museum technicians identify as American Indian.

CNAIR currently operates with a small staff and fields over 250 requests a year from Native communities. Travel expenses are often out of reach for tribal communities so the APS offers as much remote support as possible. The new Engagement Coordinator will be a designated point of contact for these requests, improving access to Native American and Indigenous language and culture collections that are vital to community projects.

“The first five years of the NASI program has provided crucial funding to undergraduate students, Native American scholars, Tribal College faculty members, and researchers who work with Native communities. Through this additional grant, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will help the APS share its collections and collaborative environment with even more native and non-native scholars as they advance knowledge in Native American and Indigenous history, languages, and cultures. I look forward to seeing the research and collaborations that come out of this wonderful initiative,” Robert Miller, APS Member, CNAIR Advisory Board Member, Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and Chief Justice for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Court of Appeals, said of the grant.

About the American Philosophical Society

The American Philosophical Society, established in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge,” is the nation’s oldest learned society. An intellectual bedrock of the early United States, the APS counts nearly all of the nation’s founders as Members of the Society. Election to Membership honors those who have made exceptionally significant contributions to science, the arts and humanities, and public life. The Society promotes scholarly research through its Library, including 40 fellowships each year, and through its research grant program. The Society sustains an informed citizenry through twice-yearly meetings and topical conferences and symposia. Public programs and museum exhibitions, which often draw close to 200,000 visitors annually, are inspired by The APS Library & Museum collections, which include 14 million pages of manuscripts, 275,000 books, and approximately 3,000 artifacts and fine art objects. The collection is strongest in early American history, Native American history and culture, and the history of science. APS publications are dedicated to publishing research that reflects a broad range of useful knowledge and is the oldest continuously operating scholarly press in the country.

Native American and Indigenous Collections at the APS

The Library of the American Philosophical Society is the oldest repository in North America of archival materials relating to the languages, cultures, histories, and continuing presence of Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Collecting began under the tenure of Thomas Jefferson, president of the Society from 1797 to 1815, who created printed broadsides of vocabulary terms he believed would be universal to all languages, sent them to people he knew would interact with Native peoples (e.g., missionaries and military officers such as Lewis and Clark). Other highlights in the collections include the papers of anthropologist Franz Boas, along with much of the core linguistic and anthropological fieldwork of many of his contemporaries and students, such as Edward Sapir, Elsie Clews Parsons, Frank Speck, Mary Haas, Pliny Earle Goddard, and Ella Deloria. The collections continue to grow with the addition of oral histories, photographs, videos, and other materials from contemporary Indigenous people.

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