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Probing the Past

Festschrift in Honor of Leo Schelbert

Wendy Everham and Virginia Schelbert

This Festschrift acknowledges the scholarly work of Leo Schelbert and his mentorship of graduate students in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago where for 33 years he taught American history. Professor Schelbert has specialized in the story of European migrations and especially of immigration to the United States. His courses offered not only pertinent data, but they also raised theoretical issues to which historical work is tied inescapably.
The varied essays included in this book reflect the range of themes former students, who now are scholars in their own right, have been pursuing. The topics of three essays center on North American Indians facing white intruders, another on émigré Hungarians living in Scotland, and one (contributed to this volume by a most esteemed colleague with whom Leo Schelbert shared many a student) on striking women straw workers in Tuscany. Another essay concerns matters relating to those grappling with mental health issues, while others deal with African newcomers in Chicago, Jewish immigrants to America who first worked as peddlers, contemporary Polish American politics in Chicago, and also with a nineteenth-century Swiss American theologian. Two of the last three essays honor Leo Schelbert’s work as a colleague and historian apart from the university setting, whereas the final one honors Leo Schelbert as a teacher as well as the Department of History at UIC in which its Swiss-born member worked from 1971 to 2003.
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Reinterpreting Historical Evidence: The Existence of Numerous Menominee Villages at the Time of Earliest European Contact




In the field of American Indian history, we scholars too often uncritically rely on previous scholarly analysis of documents to help form the basis of our assumptions. This is especially true when the data does not appear to be central to our argument. We therefore perpetuate and strengthen misinterpretations, albeit unintentionally. So it happened in the case of the Menominee Indian nation of Wisconsin that one otherwise thorough scholar misread French documentation of Menominee demography. His incorrect reporting influenced scholars’ and the reading public’s understanding of the tribe’s demographic history which continued to be repeated erroneously for several decades. Menominee people knew the more accurate version, however, and that is reflected in the historical record as well.

Inaccurate scholarship gains a life of its own. Simply because it is written, many readers accept it. The modern ramifications for this are far-reaching and even can become part of the legal system. Although Menominee territorial claims have been clearly established and long-accepted—an 1853 Senate report showed the tribe originally to have American legal claims to more than ← 3 | 4 → eight million acres of land, in itself probably an underestimate2—arguments like the one discussed here can undermine a tribe’s proper claims. This has impacted Menominee treaty claims and, more recently, the tribe’s attempts to establish a casino in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a portion of the tribe’s territorial usage area. The constantly evolving federal policy in relation to Indian land and resources...

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