Research

The last year has made it clearer than ever that disease and medicine are inherently political. Yet health and healing strike at the very hearts of our lives. These facts animate my interest in medicine as a creative force in the modern world.

My interests have shaped my dissertation research toward Gilded Age and Progressive Era Indigenous history. How did medicine interact with ongoing land theft and assimilation policy to produce the modern political and geographical United States?

Kiowa calendar for 1879-1880 commemorating “horse-eating summer” and the death of a political leader from tuberculosis.

The dissertation examines the politics of healing in modern Kiowa history. Kiowa people, members of a Great Plains tribal nation, used a range of healing practices to reconstitute their relations to one another and to the land, enabling them to survive and thrive through the assimilation policy period of the late nineteenth to early twentieth-century. Like Indigenous peoples across the continent, Kiowas used healing practices to create new communities and maintain old ones, often directly combating the federal government’s use of medical practices to control and confine them. Healing, then, was neither a static traditional practice that connected Native people to a pre-colonial past nor purely an oppressive tool of the colonial state. Rather, healing is an important way that Native people experience, navigate, and subvert colonial rule. Using these central assertions about the history of medicine in North America, my dissertation places healing at the center of Native peoples’ struggles for tribal sovereignty in what is now the United States.

This project studies a spectrum of healing practices together, seeking to blur the conceptual and historical divide between “Indigenous” and “Western” medicines. From medicines embedded within traditional Kiowa ceremony to biomedical treatment in hospital settings, all forms of healing practice can and have been vital for Kiowa survivance and self-determination at different times in history. Complicating concepts of Indigenous and Western medicine also helps me to examine more intricately how different forms of non-Native medicine, whether allopathic or homeopathic, institutional or domestic, interacted with Indigenous healing and impacted the lives of Indigenous people.

Women are significant players in this long history of healing. As the federal government’s medical presence on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kiowa women became principal mediators between white practitioners and Native families, whether as relatives, field matrons, or nurses. Through those relationships, they turned the work of white doctors and nurses to their community’s advantage and became major advocates for more accessible and equitable health care in their homelands.

Kiowa field matron T’oyhawlma (Laura Pedrick) with her son Willie in 1906, her last year serving as a field matron among her people.

I am also working on an article project concerning the North American smallpox epidemic of 1898-1902 and its role in the political transformation of Indian Territory into Oklahoma. I presented on this research recently at the American Association for the History of Medicine’s Annual Meeting, and will continue to share it at an upcoming working group meeting sponsored by the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine.