It Started with The War in Words

On October 15, 2011,  Zabelle Stodola and I were on a panel on discussing the challenges and rewards of interdisciplinary work on Indian captivity narratives at the Western History Association annual meeting in Oakland, California. This is the story we shared about why we brought A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity back into print after 149 years of obscurity.


“A Literary Scholar and a Historian Co-Edit A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity by Mary A. and John B. Renville (1863)”

 Western History Association, October 15, 2011.

Zabelle Stodola’s Comments:

“In 1989, I began work on a book called The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature which was published ten years later by the University of Nebraska Press. My idea was simple: as a way of charting changes in the captivity narrative genre, I would focus on the captivity narratives generated by a single US-Indian war. I was familiar with a few narratives from the US-Dakota War of 1862, a bitter and brutal six-week war fought in Minnesota during the early days of the larger Civil War, and I knew that the people involved interpreted and remembered the war very differently. So I liked the fact that I would not produce a master narrative, but rather analyze a series of competing but, I would argue, equally valid perspectives. I was also interested that some of these captivity narratives were by and about mixed and full blood Dakota as well as by and about European Americans.

But as I quickly discovered when I visited first the Newberry Library and then the Minnesota Historical Society to do archival research, if my idea was simple, the US-Dakota War was and is both complicated and (still) contested, almost 150 years later. As a literary scholar, I am used to working with historical data, but I am proud of the fact I am not a historian and that I am quite comfortable with ambiguity! Actually, I relish it. However, in this instance, I realized I had better get my history right, or at least, as right as it could be, partly because so much misinformation about this war has been bandied about and exploited for propaganda.

Enter Carrie Zeman, an independent historian working on aspects of the Dakota War, to whom I was introduced by then resident historian at the Minnesota Historical Society, Alan Woolworth….”

To read the rest of Zabelle’s comments, and mine, go to “The Story of the 2012 Edition” on the “About the Book” tab.

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