Native American Literature:

Native Fictions that Reconstruct American History


English 3344-001                  Office Hrs., 3;30-4:30 T/TH or by appt., 405 or 203 Carlisle

Dr. Roemer                                                                  All appointments must be scheduled.

T/TH:  2-3:20;  Preston 200            Phone: 817-272-2729; please leave name and number.




Nature of the Course


(S)he who writes history controls the past.  Indians are often associated with the past.  Hence writers of Indian histories control Indians.  There is truth in this syllogism, truth that has inspired 20th-century Native American novelists to write historical novels that offer alternatives to popular representations of particular eras in American history.  In this course we will discuss seven of these novels.  The criteria for selection were: each is written by an American Indian writer; each focuses on a specific era (or periods) at least a decade before the novel's publication date; each features events, people, places, issues, and interpretations that challenge popular concepts of the historical period(s); and, as a group, they reflect a diversity of approaches to writing historical fiction.  Rather than using the conventional chronology of publication dates to structure the course, we use a chronological progression based on the time settings of the novels.  We begin Ella Deloria's depiction of Lakota lifeways (almost) free of white contact and progress through mid-19th-, and early, mid-, and late 20th-century representations by James Welch, Louise Erdrich, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, and LeAnne Howe.  The final novel, Shell Shaker, is a fitting conclusion, since the narrative alternates between recent history (the early 1990s), the 18th-century, and a mythic time immemorial.


Goals, [Means, Assessment]


1.  to introduce students to seven important American Indian authors, including several internationally-known writers (Momaday, Silko, Welch, and Erdrich), one established writer (Hogan), and two lesser-known authors (Deloria, Howe) [readings, lectures, discussion groups, exams];


2.  to examine aesthetic, cultural, and ideological implications of the similarities and differences between these fictional historical representation and popular non-fictional representations of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century America;  we will pay particular attention to the types of people, places, events, and issues presented as historically significant [readings, lectures, group discussions, exams, 2nd paper];


3  to discuss the aesthetic, cultural, and ideological implications of different forms of historical fiction [readings, lectures, group discussions, exams];


4.  to improve writing skills that enable students to determine the preconceptions they bring to the experience of history reading [1st paper] and to determine the significance of differing historical interpretations [exams, the two papers]. 


Required Readings


Deloria, Waterlily  (1944, 1947, 1988)                      Silko,  Ceremony  (1977)

Welch, Fools Crow  (1986)                                        Hogan, Solar Storms  (1995)

Erdrich,  Tracks (1988)                                              Howe,  Shell Shaker  (2001)

Momaday,  House Made of Dawn  (1968)                History text(s) (See 2nd paper)


Tentative Schedule of Topics, Readings, Exams, Papers


Introduction to the Course                                                                1/14


19th-Century:  From Pre- Contact to Foreboding Encounters on the Plains


            Early 1800s: Historical Fiction Harnessed for Ethnography            1/14, 16, 21, 23

                        Reading:  Waterlily                                                               

            1867-1870: Erasing Boarders Between Personal, Public, and

                        Visionary Histories                                                                1/28, 30; 2/4,6

                        Reading:  Fools Crow                                               


First Examination                                                                            2/11


Early to Mid-20th Century:  Rural and Urban, Local and Global, Secular and Mythic Histories


            1912-1924: Two Tellers of North Dakota Family-Tribal-

                        National History                                                        2/13, 18, 20,[25]

                        Reading:  Tracks


            1945-1952: Modernist Kiowa and Jemez Accountings of

                        Pueblo, Los Angeles, and European (War) Events    2/25, 27; 3/4, 6

                        Reading:  House Made of Dawn


First Paper Due                                                                                3/6


            1940s-mid-1950s:  A History of Sickness to Health,           3/11, 13, 25

                        from Mixed-blood Isolation and the Bataan March

                        to  the Land, the Kiva, and Time Immemorial

                        Reading:  Ceremony


Spring Break                                                                                      3/18, 20


Second Exam                                                                        3/27


Late 20th Century [and Time Immemorial]


            1972-73 / 75:  Mixing a First-Person Womanlines

                        Bildungsroman  with Advocacy History                    4/3, 8, 10, 15

                        Reading:  Solar Storms


            1991 / 1738-47 / Mythic Time:  Mixing Tribal Politics,     

                        Murder Mystery, and Mythic Womanlines              4/17, 22, 24, [29]

                        Reading:  Shell Shaker


Second Paper Due                                                                            4/29


Review for Final Exam                                                                      5/1


Third Exam                                                                                      5/6







Each exam will consist of two parts: (1) brief identifications (e.g., characters) and short answer questions taken from the readings, lectures, and group discussions (closed book);  (2) essay questions related to class discussions but representing applications not discussed in detail in class (open book).  During the class before the exam, I will distribute a detailed study sheet that covers both parts of the exam.


Grading criteria for the essay questions include demonstrating the ability to focus on the question asked and to support claims with specific and relevant examples from the texts.           




The first paper (approximately 1250 words/ five pages; due March 6): The aim of this paper is to define important associations that you bring to a reading of historical fiction and to determine the effects of that association.  Select one of the novels assigned.  Examine two or three significant associations.  (The associations might be books you have read, courses you have taken, people you have known, beliefs you advocate, or personal experiences.  The associations might be related to American Indians or particular historical periods, or they might have little to do with either.)  For each association examined, (1) define the nature of the association, (2) indicate which part or parts of the novel were shaped by the association, and (3), most importantly, analyze the impact of the association on the relevant section(s).  This process should help you to understand how your associations transform what you read.  They should also help you to understand how associations that a writer brings to an historical period can shape how s(he) "reads" that period.  A good way to begin this paper is to take notes as you read a book you might want to use for the paper.  When you have a particularly strong negative or positive response, note why you think you responded that way.  As you proceed, see if there are any patterns to your explanations.  These patterns should direct you to the associations you will define and analyze.  Grading criteria:  how well you articulate the above stated requirements (1, 2, 3, especially 3) and evidence of writing competence (the ability to invent and construct engaging, coherent sentences, and paragraphs, and a unified paper; demonstrated skills in grammar, spelling, and punctuation). 


The second paper (1250 words / five pages) asks you to determine how a particular novel challenges typical representations of a period.  Select a different novel from the one discussed in the first paper. Examine closely themes, issues, episodes, characters, settings or descriptions that offer alternatives to typical history textbook interpretations of the relevant years.  To make the comparisons, consult relevant sections of general American histories (high school or college history texts or popular histories designed for the "general" reader).  Educational Web sites might also work.  Grading criteria:  demonstrated writing competence (see above) and the ability to support your claims about alternate historical views with convincing, specific comparisons between the novel and the history text(s) or Web sites.


Approximate Grading Weights


First exam (15%); 2nd exam (25%); 1st paper (15%); 2nd paper (25%); third exam (20%).




If you must withdraw from the course, follow University procedures; otherwise you risk receiving a F.  For each five unexcused absences, the semester grade drops by a half letter grade.  Plagiarism will not be tolerated.  Violators (I prefer criminal vocabulary for this offense) will be turned over to the Student Affairs Office for disciplinary action.  If you are confused about plagiarism, consult with me or consult the "Writer's Responsibility" section of the  Graduate School's Web site: <>.




Improvement and consistent class participation can alter semester grades (in a positive way).  I am very willing to accommodate students with disabilities.  Early in the semester, these students should present their authorized documents from the appropriate University office.  Note:  The Office of Student Success Programs (817-272-6107) offers advising and mentoring for academic, personal, and social problems.