An even better day than I thought

March 20, 2009

From Race to the Bottom (who else?), Barbara Mann, the only actual expert on the 1837 Mandan smallpox epidemic I know, of supports Ward Churchill’s claims unequivocally.

Dr. Mann is an eminent historian, teacher and writer at the University of Toledo. She is herself native American (and not personally picky about which term—native American, Indian, indigenous—is used to describe her) and has published nine books. Her latest is “The Gift of Disease” which includes a chapter on the 1837 smallpox epidemic. She has known Professor Churchill for over 20 years (although she wasn’t quite clear on the timeline) and asked him to write the foreword for one of her books when he was “more famous” than she at the time. She was—even through a male voice—an authoritative, confident witness.

Dr. Mann’s testimony displayed her very personal, detailed and intimate knowledge of the smallpox epidemic. She clarified that primary research is reading something that was written as the event was happening; even something that is old, but was nevertheless written, say, six months after the event is not primary. For example, the story about the three Arikara women who might have spread smallpox is a secondary, not primary, story because it was written by someone named Pilcher who was trying to explain months later where the epidemic might have started.

Further, in Dr. Mann’s view, oral history must be treated carefully. She will use and refer to oral history of her own [native american] nation, but will not presume to refer to the oral history of another nation. When things are written down, they may be referred to and referenced freely, but oral stories need permission to be shared.

Since so much of this trial seems to be about footnotes, Dr. Mann gave some useful descriptions of different footnote styles; one where an author is summarizing ideas and may put one footnote at the end of a paragraph to reference general thoughts on the topic, and the other where a specific fact is stated and the source needs to be identified. She also described the difference between a “trade” book and an academic book. Trade books are written to be sold to the general public, and editors encourage (or insist on) authors to minimize footnotes. Academic books are designed for “full steroid geeks.”

In response to Plaintiff counsel’s questions, Dr. Mann unequivocally said that—contradicting the Investigation Committee’s Report—there was indeed a “reasonable basis” for Churchill’s claim that the smallpox epidemic was a result of blankets taken from an infirmary in St. Louis, and the claim that army doctors at Fort Clark told the infected Indians to scatter. Dr. Mann is a repository of minute detail about those events. Consequently, she completely backed up all of Churchill’s claims and refuted the findings of the investigative committee.  

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