There are many Thanksgiving stories to tell
November 23, 2016 7:36 AM   Subscribe

 
The post title comes from a longer comment by Chuck Larsen, a Native American public school teacher and historian:
"The problem is that part of what you and I learned in our childhood about the 'Pilgrims' and 'Squanto' and the 'First Thanksgiving' is a mixture of both history and myth," Larsen continues. "But the theme of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our fore bearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story of the founding of Plymouth Plantation."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:38 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was trying to find a reference to why the stereotypical "Pilgrim black and white and buckles" is a stereotype, but I failed.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:42 AM on November 23, 2016


I would heartily recommend Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War as a good recent history about the Separatists led by Bradford and the establishment of the Plymouth settlement. Also this American Experience film "The Pilgrims" starring the late Roger Rees as Bradford, that uses Philbrick's book for a lot of its background.
posted by briank at 7:46 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Buckles are cool and we shouldn't cede them to a pack of historical bluenoses.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is great. I love the expression of the Wampanoag woman in the third link. They look so happy.

This is the time of year that my FB friends who are proud parents start posting pics of their kids wearing the same construction-paper Pilgrim and Indian outfits that we made in kindergarten thirty years ago, sometimes at the same school, and I bite my tongue. I'm glad to see that some educators are doing a better job.

Why did toddlers ever stop wearing "pudding" rolls, anyway? They still walk into tables.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:51 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


In grad school I wrote a paper on the history of Plimoth Plantation (the historical reenactment site, not the actual settlement) and was lucky enough to meet and interview the organization's historian who had a wealth of resources about the site, including the introduction of first-person interpretation in the 60s, which was strongly opposed by the site Board of Directors, as it would lend a dirty, hippie, Communist feeling to what they felt should be a very dignified production. The site has really had to struggle over the years with portraying an accurate version of history versus the buckles and turkey-n-stuffing most of the tourists are expecting to see.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:02 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was trying to find a reference to why the stereotypical "Pilgrim black and white and buckles" is a stereotype, but I failed.

I suspect it's a carryover from 17th Century dutch paintings.
posted by Diablevert at 8:09 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Plimoth Plantation have more information on and examples of authentic Pilgrim and Wampanoag clothing

These just look incomplete without Black Phillip offering butter.
posted by maxsparber at 8:13 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Plimoth Plantation is a fun afternoon, though, TBH, after a bit I get weary of the re-enactors and their "I know not of these wonders of which you speak, good sir" shtick when trying to have a conversation with them.
posted by briank at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


I get weary of the re-enactors and their "I know not of these wonders of which you speak, good sir" shtick when trying to have a conversation with them.

Steven: Can I get a knife or fork?
Wench: There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils AT Medieval Times. Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?
Steven: There were no utensils but there was Pepsi?
Wench: Dude, I got a lot of tables.
posted by maxsparber at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2016 [20 favorites]


Plimoth Plantation is a fun afternoon, though, TBH, after a bit I get weary of the re-enactors and their "I know not of these wonders of which you speak, good sir" shtick when trying to have a conversation with them.

I really liked Plimoth Plantation but spent more time talking with cows than humans after getting enough from re-enactors at the Mayflower replica. Also, I had just visited John Alden's gravesite (my great 9x grandfather) and wasn't really keen on anyone's interpretation.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:29 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


The site has really had to struggle over the years with portraying an accurate version of history versus the buckles and turkey-n-stuffing most of the tourists are expecting to see.

Yeah, I interviewed some of the workers there once for a thing and IIRC they confined the anachonism bits to the Pilgrim village while allowing the interpreters at the Wampanoag site to speak as 21st century people specifically so the Native interpreters could better deal with the endless amount of super-racist questions. Don't know if they've changed it since. Sometimes apparently the Native interpreters would go down to the village and prank the Pilgrims and then historically re-enact not understanding English, which apprently put the Pilgrim interpreters in a bit of a twist.
posted by Diablevert at 8:31 AM on November 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


I use Thanksgiving to teach my 1st/2nd graders the concept of primary sources, (using a lot of the material linked above), and this was the first year ever that my students had none of the old misconceptions about the pilgrims and native americans... which I credit to a couple of new-ish kindergarten teachers who got rid of the terrible and inaccurate (and racist) pilgrims and indians dress-up tradition that my school had for years.

They were still amazed by the foods, though, which is the fun part for me... :-)
posted by Huck500 at 8:31 AM on November 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


I really liked Plimoth Plantation but spent more time talking with cows than humans after getting enough from re-enactors at the Mayflower replica.


The baby goats at Plimoth are always up for a good conversation.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:42 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


But the theme of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our fore bearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story of the founding of Plymouth Plantation.

I really like this point, and wish it got broader traction. It's maybe something many of us intuitively agree with, but I feel like it's worth stressing in the face of both the facile and false myths of the first Thanksgiving and the reaction to those myths that portrays the holiday as a celebration of genocide and theft.

More from the same article as that comment:

"There really was a true Thanksgiving story of Plymouth Plantation," Larsen says. "But I strongly suggest that there has always been a Thanksgiving story of some kind or other for as long as there have been human beings. There was also a 'First' Thanksgiving in America, but it was celebrated thirty thousand years ago. Every last Thursday in November we now partake in one of the oldest and most universal of human celebrations, and there are many Thanksgiving stories to tell." [emphasis in original]

That's what I mean and I wish was maybe the more generally-understood meaning of the holiday. It really gets to what I like about Thanksgiving and why I think it's maybe my favorite holiday. It's not just about what happened in 17th-century Massachusetts. The idea of taking a moment to reflect on our lives, to appreciate what we have and where we are is really important and meaningful to me, and creates an opportunity of connection to others - not just Americans but all of humanity - that too often gets lost both in our daily lives and in the dominant narratives about Thanksgiving (the mythology and the anti-Thanksgiving reaction to it).
posted by nickmark at 8:49 AM on November 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


It should be pointed out that the Separatists were the radical party of their day. Over against my own Episcopal Church's forebears the Anglicans and the moderate Church of England reformers (the Puritans), the Separatists wanted a disestablished Church and had a relatively wide franchise (still confined to males, of course).

History can and should surely judge them for their many shortcomings, but we also shouldn't subject them to presentist bias. In many ways they were doing a really important thing in the history of democratic and secular governance which sort of flies in the face of our stereotypes about them.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I want to Plimouth Plantation on a school trip in grade 7. It was absolutely awesome. I have olde-fashioned "photo-graphs" from the trip, but I'm too lazy to scan them. For some reason, I remember a lot of the reenactors we talked to having a lot to say about pissle-pots and pissling in general.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:35 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just today, the Boston Globe has a neat article about the latest archeological findings in Plymouth.
posted by Melismata at 9:44 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


A few months ago I visited the museum at the Salt Pond Visitor Center of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and it's got an absolutely fabulous little museum attached. A good third or fourth of it was devoted to Wampanoag and earlier indigenous inhabitants and displays artifacts from the Carns Archaeological Site which was uncovered by the eroding seashore in 1990, as well as an exhibit based on interviews with modern Wampanoag people. (And of course, lots of other good exhibits about colonial and American whaling communities and other communites up into the 20th century.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:21 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


confined the anachonism bits to the Pilgrim village while allowing the interpreters at the Wampanoag site to speak as 21st century people specifically so the Native interpreters could better deal with the endless amount of super-racist questions

Yeah, they also had the issue that they often didn't have enough Wampanoag interpreters, so you had non-Native interpreters dressing up in traditional Wampanoag garb and acting the role of Wampanoag, which was... not a great look, to say the least. I think there are some valid criticisms about the different ways the English and the Wampanoag interpretation is done at Plimoth, but it does seem like a non-starter to have first-person Wampanoag interpreters.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:26 AM on November 23, 2016


Melismata: Just today, the Boston Globe has a neat article about the latest archeological findings in Plymouth.

Interesting, thanks! If anyone wants some more background on the Pilgrims, The Smithsonian has an article titled The Pilgrims Before Plymouth, subtitled "A tour of the Dutch city of Leiden yields new insights into a chapter of the Thanksgiving story not taught in schools." It has highlights of Historian Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs' tour of the Pilgrims’ Leiden. If you really want to dig into the history, Bangs wrote a book titled Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation, a 928 page tome that is pretty expensive on Amazon, but much cheaper from The Mayflower Society and American Ancestors, to name a few alternative sources.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:51 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


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