Dartmouth Brut Land Acknowledgment

On January 17, 2020 by Michelle Warren

In the new year 2020, Remix is celebrating its fifth anniversary! At this juncture, the project has become part of my broader research in critical infrastructure studies–what makes books last and at what price? These questions have prompted me to think more deeply about the connection between my work with medieval manuscripts and my work with people who seek to reverse the legacies of racial discrimination in higher education. For a long time, I thought of these engagements as largely separate. They are, however, closely entangled. In honor of these relationships, this post provides the official indigenous land acknowledgment for the Remix project.

Most broadly, we acknowledgment the colonial origin of Dartmouth College, founded for the education of Native American youth and occupying the lands of the Abenaki and other Algonquin peoples. All the work that takes place here rests on the forceful appropriation of their lands by European settlers. You can read more about this history in Colin Calloway’s open-access book, The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth (2010).  I hope that readers will also seek to learn more about the sources of their research materials, their buildings, and the current and past stewards of the lands where they live. Consider how to be in better relation with Indigenous Peoples. If the idea of land acknowledgement is new and unfamiliar, this guide and this article are helpful starting points.

Most specifically, the Brut manuscript purchase was financed by settler colonialism. I’ve written about this issue previously in Philology in Ruins (2015). This extract explains the connections between library funds, U.S. imperial capitalism, and the ethical practice of medieval studies:

“Medieval European manuscripts are a different order of ‘debris’ from the searing human costs and calamitous environmental ruinations that Ann Stoler elucidates in “Imperial Debris” (2008). And yet they are also a category of imperial ruin in precisely the way that Stoler means. The financial resources that sustain archives in both private and public institutions are ultimately entangled with, or directly derived from, exploitative extractions made possible by imperial ruinations. Of many possible
examples, let me cite just the one most immediate to my own circumstance: I wrote these words a short distance from several medieval European manuscripts in the special collections library at Dartmouth College, an institution, as Craig Wilder has shown in Ebony and Ivy (2013), whose material riches rest on theft, genocide, and exploitation of both indigenous and African peoples. Without those past events, there would be no medieval manuscripts here today.

Even more pointedly, the endowment that has paid for recent manuscript acquisitions derives from the William L. Bryant Foundation, a private enterprise established by William J. Bryant (Dartmouth Class of 1925), an amateur archaeologist and collector. Bryant named the foundation after his father, a Vermont industrialist, and used the funds to excavate Roman ruins in Spain in the 1940s and 1950s. Bryant then turned his attention to Florida and the Caribbean, where he saw his work as homage to Spain’s “enduring cultural impressions” (Doenges 2005). He focused on pre-Columbian indigenous archaeological sites while collecting contemporary art throughout the Caribbean. Today, the William J. Bryant West Indies Collection at the University of Central Florida remains a significant archive of ‘imperial ruins’ — Caribbean art and artifacts along with documents of British colonial policy.

At Dartmouth, the Bryant collection is omnivorous. It includes not only Bryant’s extensive collection of Spanish books but also an ever growing archive of new acquisitions — items as varied as an Aztec legal document, an Ethiopian prayer book, Dutch accounts of the Caribbean, Dr. Seuss papers . . . and medieval manuscripts (which are digitized when resources allow). Because the Bryant Fund is relatively unrestricted, and relatively large, it is a key resource for a wide range of major purchases (Satterfield 2014). These conditions mean that the Fund supports a diverse collection of fascinating documents from world cultures — or, put in different terms, a gathering of imperial ruins, available for a price on the global book market.

‘Ruining’ philology, then, means at least the following: reckoning with the imperial formations of the buildings that house the material remains of the Middle Ages; tracing the circuits of global capital that power today’s archives; liberating textual engagement from fixed aesthetic hierarchies; committing to perpetual renovation. ‘Philology in ruins’ is practised amidst the historical remains of empire. It is the productive damage done to philology by articulating its imperial formations. It is the liberation from trying to ‘set things straight’ or get them in the right order, enabling more creative and equitable approaches to
all forms of documentary culture.”

References:

Doenges, Norman. The William L. Bryant Foundation: A Brief History. Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College, 2005.

Satterfield, Jay. Special Collections Librarian, personal communication, 5 December 2014.

Stoler, Ann Laura. “Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination.” Cultural Anthropology 23, no. 2 (2008): 191-219.

Wilder, Craig Steven. Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013.

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