This online exhibition effectively creates a digital archive of several Algonquian-language printed books and pamphlets, or wussukwhonk as they are called in the Nipmuc language, chosen for the value they add to current language reclamation work taking place in Nipmuc country. The manuscript collections featured here include town records, land deeds, and account books from English settlements established on Nipmuc homelands in the southern part of the area now referred to as Worcester County.
The preservation and reclamation of Nipmuc culture and language requires research within multiple archives nationwide and abroad, in book and manuscript collections known and yet unknown. Reconstructing Nipmuc language and history using written documents has been an ongoing project within the Nipmuc community since the 1970s and is a vital part of the tribe’s cultural revitalization efforts. The American Antiquarian Society, built on Nipmuc homelands, is one such repository that holds early Algonquian-language monographs, manuscript collections, and early town records that contain vital and unique information about Nipmuc people.
European colonization in the Americas entailed concentrated efforts to systematically suppress or destroy Indigenous cultures. Settlers who arrived on the shores of what is now called Massachusetts in the early part of the seventeenth century set about assimilating the Native population in the area in a number of ways, including through missionary work. English efforts to Christianize Indigenous Peoples prioritized the production of religious texts translated into various dialects of the Algonquian language. Settlers also established praying towns, collected taxes, and kept detailed records of land transactions, population data of Native communities, and accounts related to interactions between European settlers and Indigenous peoples in the Northeast.
Though these efforts affected all Native nations across the Eastern Woodlands region, this exhibition focuses on the importance of selected colonial era-records to cultural reclamation work happening in Nipmuc communities in the twenty-first century. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these translated texts and manuscript records were meant to replace Indigenous traditions and knowledge with Eurocentric ones. They are used in the twenty first century to piece back together the histories and heritages of Native communities in ways that underscore their persistence and resilience in the face of hundreds of years of subjugation.