With the first issue of the journal Ethnohistory, Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, founder of the American Society for Ethnohistory and one of the first editors of its journal, in a five-page statement did three important things that have since defined the field: (1) she offered a working definition of “ethnohistory,” (2) she charged ethnohistorians with their mission, and (3) she proposed a methodology for accomplishing this mission.

Anthropology, for most of its history, did not think reconstructing the past of oral societies was possible, and most anthropologists, adhering to the static Native and declension model, did not see the usefulness of the endeavor. However, when anthropologists such as Wheeler-Voegelin became involved in the Indians Claims Commission and, through that, in tribal efforts to redress historical treaty noncompliance by the US federal government, among other grievances, they were forced to consider history. They sifted...

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