Cori L. Simon

  • Fellowship year:2019-2020
  • University: University of Wisconsin- Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Shadowland: Indian Territory's Contested Past and Uncertain Future, 1800-1910
  • I am an historian of the North American West, focusing on the intersection of race, gender, ethnicity, and U.S. imperialism in the nineteenth-century. My dissertation seeks to reconceive of Indian Territory—what eventually became the states of Kansas and Oklahoma—as a contested space where Native and non-Native residents and newcomers competed for power, imagining myriad possibilities for that territory's future. Originally created as a temporary solution to the nation's so called "Indian problem," Indian Territory was never positioned on a path to statehood as other U.S. territories had been. Over the course of the nineteenth century, it became home to an unprecedented diversity of Indigenous groups and white and black settlers. All the while, outsiders' desires cast a shadow over Indian Territory's own internal dynamics. Battles over Indian Territory's future illuminated how, in the wake of western conquest, the U.S. grappled with the challenges of incorporating the region's diverse peoples into a nation built on white supremacy. In an effort to balance the influence of these internal and external pressures, my dissertation connects struggles for and expressions of power in Indian Territory through the stories of people who navigated this disputed space in their daily lives. I highlight moments of contingency in meetings between people with radically different views of the territory's future, examining how such aspirations shaped the region's political, cultural, and social landscape, and arguing that throughout Indian Territory's history, it remained an uncertain space, its political boundaries blurred and its destiny contested.
    Highlighting moments when Indian Territory's fate came into question, my dissertation brings this history out of the shadows of Oklahoma statehood. From recent Supreme Court cases that set questions of jurisdiction and belonging in Oklahoma on a national stage to representations of the land runs in popular culture, the battle for Indian Territory's future remains embedded in today's cultural and political landscapes. Narratives subsuming Indian Territory's past into state histories silence the diverse claims to authority and the many futures imagined within that contested place. My dissertation contends that to misconstrue this silence for inevitability is to deny that Oklahomans and Kansans live in states born in conflict over competing aspirations, places where descendants of Indian Territory's diverse residents continue to fight for belonging and Indigenous nations continue to assert their sovereignty.