Professor of American Indian Studies creates innovative courses
Theresa Schenck is a program builder. She is committed to the study of American Indian cultures, and already has a long list of courses she’d like to develop here as part of UW-Madison’s flourishing American Indian Studies program. As one of our new cluster hires, she began teaching at UW-Madison in the fall of 2002, in Life Sciences Communications and American Indian Studies. Theresa is an ethnohistorian, with a Ph. D. in Anthropology from Rutgers University. Previously, Theresa has taught at Washington State University and the University of Winnipeg.
Last year, she offered a popular special topics class, American Indian Women, as well as a course in Research Methods. She also taught American Indian Folklore, a course she is currently revamping—including a change in semester. Next time the course will be taught during the spring semester, so that mythology can be covered while snow is still on the ground (a prescription common to a number of tribes). Her plans for future courses include Indians of Wisconsin; Natives and Newcomers (about early contact); and a course she previously taught at Washington State University, Native Americans in Film. This last course, she says, brought together two groups—film students and American Indian Studies students—who were able to share their expertise with each other. She found the course expanded the worlds of both groups. “We should be doing this,” Theresa says. “We should be reaching more students.” True to this philosophy, this semester she is teaching Introduction to American Indian Studies—a course whose enrollment she has increased from 25 students to 100.
An enrolled member of the Blackfoot nation, Theresa is also Ojibwa, and has focused much of her research on Ojibwa history in the Upper Midwest. In 2002, she co-edited with Laura Peers an annotated version of fur trader George Nelson’s journals from 1802–1804, My First Years in the Fur Trade (Minnesota Historical Society Press and McGill-Queens University Press). In 1997, she wrote The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, as part of the series Native Americans: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by John R. Wunder and Cynthia Willis Esqueda. She also has produced numerous articles on Ojibwa history and culture, and works to increase understanding of tribal history within the Upper Midwest. In 1999, for example, she offered a workshop at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College in Wisconsin on Lac Courte Oreilles history and traditions. She also has given presentations on Ojibwa origins at Lac du Flambeau, the Red Cliff Tribal Center, and the Bad River Tribal Center.
But her real passion is William W. Warren, the Ojibwa mixed-blood whose influential history of the Ojibwa people was published in 1885. Warren, who died at age 28 in 1853, enriched his work with accounts of Ojibwa traditions and lore. Currently, Theresa is working on two related book projects: an annotated version of Warren’s History of the Ojibway People, and a biography of Warren.
A dogged researcher and dedicated teacher, Theresa’s high standards and ambitions fit well with the Center’s mission to increase knowledge about our region’s peoples.
Ruth Olson is associate director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.
(Janet Gilmore, who begins teaching in the spring semester, will be profiled in the next newsletter.)