Darwin-L Message Log 6:58 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<6:58>From fwg1@cornell.edu  Fri Feb 11 10:23:12 1994

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 1994 11:23:02 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: fwg1@cornell.edu (Frederic W. Gleach)
Subject: Re: Rafinesque

Another side note on Rafinesque.  Recent research by David Schmidt (I hope
I remember the name correctly), presented at this past fall's Algonquian
Conference and Ethnohistory meetings, makes pretty certain what many
scholars have long believed: that Rafinesque himself composed the Walum
Olam.  For those not familiar with this marvelous document, it purports to
be a traditional pictographic record of the Delaware (Lenni Lenape)
Indians, written on bark, and given to Rafinesque by a Lenape.  According
to the story, he then translated the text, which is a narrative of the
origin and migration of the Lenape.  Schmidt's research (yet to be
published) documents a vast series of consistent misuses of the Lenape
language that are also found in other examples of Rafinesque's writing,
including a number of literal translations of idiomatic usages.  The
classic published version of the text is from the Indiana Historical
Society in the late 1950s, with linguistic analysis by Voegelin, and with
careful treading around the issue of origin by all associated scholars--it
seems Eli Lilly was determined that it be accepted as authentic, and would
tolerate no other opinions!
        This becomes something more than an interesting academic debate,
however.  The Walum Olam has been accepted as authentic by many people,
including many living Lenape, and in fact there is a recent paperback
publication (called _The Red Road_ as I recall) that presents this as
traditional knowledge.  The question of possible inspirations of Rafinesque
remains to be examined; at this point the camps seem to split out pretty
well into those who happily cite another case of "invented tradition" and
those who point to academics as once again misunderstanding and denying
traditional systems of knowledge.  The political implications are obvious.
        Yet another legacy of our friend Constantine Rafinesque. . . .

                        Frederic W. Gleach   (fwg1@cornell.edu)
                   Anthropology Department, Cornell University
                                        (607) 255-6779

I long ago decided that anything that could be finished in my lifetime was
necessarily too small an affair to engross my full interest.  --Ernest
Dewitt Burton

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