Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

 

On the Lecture Circuit

Fletcher argued in her lecture, "Know Thyself," that Americans had a duty to learn their own history in order to understand their place in the world. "It becomes us to investigate the mind of our countrymen," she reasoned, "to explain its education of culture in the past, that we may understand, the present. By no other key can the full meaning of today, be opened."

Fletcher’s quest for a fuller knowledge of American history led her to research topics she hoped would rouse the interest in her audience. She delivered lectures on "The Lost Colonies," in which she examined the history of North America and the rise of civilization through ethnography and archaeology. Fletcher informed her audience that "It is almost within a generation that search has been made in the treasure-hiding Earth for traces of America’s past. Geology, Archaeology, and Ethnology have but scarcely engaged in striving to decipher among the strange archaic treasures and curious monumental remains scattered over the length and breadth of our land what became of men and races of men lived and died upon this eldest sister of the continents. Changes in the order of man’s historical career may be in store for us, when all the links in the chain of events are found and each assigned its proper place."

Fletcher’s claims that man existed in the Americas long before human life began in Europe spoke to American’s interest in developing a myth of their own past that would legitimate the project of the young nation. Audience members and journalists showered Fletcher with praise and as she traveled the lecture circuit in Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin, she discovered that her lectures on prehistoric America drew a large audience. She developed an entire lecture series on Ancient America, based upon her burgeoning archaeological knowledge.