News Release: Arts and Humanities, Research, Teaching

Mar. 19,  2009

Technology Connects Course, Tribal culture

News Article ImageCarl Brown, Craig Womack (center) and Stefanie Pierce explore the Emory Woodlands, the native homeland of the Muscogee Creeks. Listen on iTunes to an interview with professor Craig Womack, and view a video discussion with the tribe in Oklahoma about sharing the past and present of the Creek culture.

From Emory Report

An English course is mapping some very interesting and uncharted territory that links Emory with a Native American community.

Craig Womack's English 389 class, broadly titled "Native American Literature," is specifically focused on the language and stories of the Creek, the Native American people that call much of the area that now constitutes Alabama and Georgia their tribal homelands.

"Emory was founded in 1836, which corresponds to the same year that the Muscogee Creeks were removed to Oklahoma," Womack, associate professor of English, points out.

In aiming to introduce those at Emory to the Native American language and stories that sit in relation to the campus and its history, Womack videoconferences to the tribe's relocation home in Oklahoma. There, at an Oklahoma State University classroom in Okmulgee, Internet 2 acts as the bridge that links the two communities and provides the video feed that allows the real-time interaction between students and the tribe.

In Okmulgee, leading the discussion with the tribe, are Ted Isham, linguist and curator of the Creek Council House Museum, and Rosemary McCombs Maxey, educator, minister and Creek writer. Isham describes the course as a "reintroduction, or a reinvestigation, so to speak, of our native homelands, which are in the Southeast, centered around Atlanta, Georgia."

The uniqueness of the connection between the two learning communities is clear listening to Emory staff member Stefanie Pierce, who is a student in the class. "We are communicating between the old country and the new country in ways that wouldn't have been in any way possible when those boundaries were being formed," she says.

Pierce, drawn to the class to explore her own Creek heritage, has been fascinated by the land around Emory and Decatur since moving here from Alabama, making it her personal study to understand the ethnobotany of the area.

Her guide to the land has been Environmental Studies adjunct faculty member, Carl Brown, who regularly explores and studies the Emory woodlands. In taking Womack's course, Pierce has been able to connect the land and the plants that live here back to the stories and the language that live in Okmulgee.

Isham, thinking back to the planning of the course, remembers talking with Womack and McCombs Maxey and imagining: "Wouldn't it be cool to have a class or an interaction between the two groups; the modern situation of where the Creeks are today in Oklahoma and relate it to where we come from, and vice versa?"

To uncover Pierce's interest in Emory's native plants is to find one strand, showing, as Womack puts it, that the course can be "mutually beneficial," bringing knowledge of traditional plants back to the tribe in Oklahoma at the same time as the language and stories come to Georgia.

And the technology? Womack says it makes it feel like the professors and participants in Oklahoma "are in the room with you." Isham and McCombs Maxey are more non-plused, being self-avowed "geeks," saying that they have been in many videoconferences before. What they haven't been in, both add, is in one that went across the Mississippi, from new country to old, from history to place, across a geographical divide.

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