With the addition of newly-appointed Native American historian Alyssa Mt. Pleasant to Yale’s faculty ranks, the University will fill a void that has existed in Native American studies since 2001.
Mt. Pleasant has accepted an offer to join Yale’s faculty beginning in the fall of 2006 as an assistant professor of American studies and history, American Studies Department chair John Mack Faragher said Sunday. Next academic year, before she assumes her professorship, Mt. Pleasant, who is expected to receive her Ph.D. this spring from Cornell University’s American Indian Program, will be a postdoctoral associate at Yale’s Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders and will teach a seminar in the spring of 2006.
As a number of major universities are currently vying for a small pool of qualified candidates in the field of Native American studies, Mt. Pleasant’s appointment is considered a coup for Yale, Faragher said.
“If this is my greatest accomplishment as chair, I’ll be very satisfied,” he said. “The number of qualified scholars for these positions is very small. I feel very fortunate in having been able to persuade Alyssa to come to Yale.”
Mt. Pleasant said she accepted Yale’s offer after four other universities competed to hire her.
The appointment is “greatly welcomed” by the University, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said.
“It restores critical courses of the highest intellectual and cultural interest to the curriculum,” Butler said in an e-mail. “We’re delighted by all successful searches, and this one will bring an especially distinctive presence to our courses and curriculum.”
A 1997 graduate of Barnard College in New York City, Mt. Pleasant will take over the popular introductory history survey course “The Native American Experience in North America” and will also teach an introductory course on specific features of Native American cultural studies beginning in the fall of 2006, Faragher said.
The appointment of Mt. Pleasant — who is currently completing her Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell on the development of the Haudenosaunee community at Buffalo Creek in upstate New York from 1780 to 1840 — will enable Yale’s Native American studies courses to maintain a “regional focus” on the Northeast, Faragher said.
“We were able to fulfill our goal of someone who can cover the national scene, but whose own focus is on an important Northeastern people,” he said.
During a campus visit last spring, Mt. Pleasant said she was impressed by student and faculty enthusiasm for Native American studies. This, in addition to the University’s active Native American community, ultimately convinced her to come to Yale.
“I was really excited at the development of an intellectual community around American Indian studies among graduate students at Yale,” Mt. Pleasant said. “I really felt welcomed throughout my visit.”
The American Studies Department began its search for an assistant professor in Native American studies last spring in response to growing student demand, Faragher said. The department received 75 to 100 initial applicants for the position and narrowed the search to three in November, he said.
Mt. Pleasant, who is a member of the Tuscarora Indian community in upstate New York, will be the department’s first appointment in the field of Native American studies since the 2001 departure of American studies and religious studies professor Jace Weaver. Weaver, Yale’s first Native American scholar and a specialist in indigenous religion and culture, moved to a tenured post at the University of Georgia.
Native American studies is a field that has been building since its growth as a formal discipline in the late 1960s, Mt. Pleasant said. While Cornell has had a strong Native American studies program for several years, universities such as Harvard and Yale only recently have moved to make appointments in the area, she said.
“What we’re seeing now is in some ways an institutionalization of that intellectual tradition within the formal structures of higher education,” Mt. Pleasant said.
Amanda de Zutter ’01 SOM ’06, who serves as co-chair of Native American Yale Alumni, said she is pleased that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is making the effort to bring a new Native American specialist to the University.
“It’s important for a place like Yale, in order to maintain its being on the forefront of academic life and scholarly work, to have as diverse a course offering as possible,” de Zutter said. “To the extent that Yale goes out of its way to make sure that diversity is represented, that benefits the University’s reputation and growth.”