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Annette Kolodny to Speak on Penobscot Oral Tradition of European Discovery of North America

USM Libra Professor Annette Kolodny

Dr. Annette Kolodny, College of Humanities professor emerita of American literature and culture at the University of Arizona, will lecture as a Libra Professor, a prestigious recognition confirmed by the University of Maine System that acknowledges excellence of scholarship.

Kolodny is “a groundbreaking, public intellect whose works in American, native, and feminist studies have shaped these fields for the last 40 years,” said Lorrayne Carroll, USM associate professor of English, who proposed the event for the Libra Professorship designation.

Details of the lecture are:

  • “Papal Bulls, Wishful Wonder, and the Many Fictions of the Doctrine of Discovery”: a lecture by Annette Kolodny, College of Humanities professor emerita of American literature and culture at the University of Arizona; reception, 6-7:30 p.m., Wishcamper Center Atrium; lecture, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 8, Lee Auditorium, Wishcamper Center, University of Southern Maine, 34 Bedford St. Portland; both events free and open to the public; For more information, call (207) 780-4291/ TTY: (207) 789-5646 or harjula@usm.maine.edu

The Libra Professorship was established in 1989 by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees in partnership with philanthropist Elizabeth Noyce and the Libra Foundation. The professorship enables the university to invite nationally and internationally recognized scholars who engage with faculty and students and exemplify excellence in their respective discipline.

Kolodny will give a lecture on the legal basis for early European claims about the discovery of North America. Drawing on oral traditions, including Penobscot materials, Kolodny will demonstrate how native stories of “first contact” in North America undercut European tales of “wonder” and “awe” and challenge European assertions about the so-called “discovered” lands.

This lecture will draw on Penobscot texts, including a tale from oral tradition told to Kolodny by Penobscot Nation elder James Sappier, according to Carroll.

“Dr. Kolodny's lecture is a crucial examination of European and native ‘first-contact’ narratives and the contexts that shaped them,” the USM professor said. “Especially important for people interested in Maine history, the lecture will bring to light Penobscot perspectives and oral traditions that have never been considered within the scholarly work on this early period.”

Kolodny is an internationally known scholar, author and activist who combines examination of American culture and its discontents with political activism in the civil rights, women’s and environmental movements. Her first two books focusing on the fields of eco-criticism and frontier studies, “The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters” and “The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860,” drew acclaim for their observations on the mythology of the American western frontier and the study of white women’s responses to the pioneer experience.

Kolodny has been the recipient of numerous awards and acknowledgements. In 1993, she was elected to lifetime membership in the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Her study of the connections between Scandinavian and American literatures resulted in her 2012 book, “In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery.”

Her recent research on stories about first contacts with Europeans uncovered a lost masterpiece of Native American literature written and self-published by Penobscot elder Joseph Nicolar in 1893. Nicolar’s work, “The Life and Traditions of the Red Man,” was reprinted by Duke University Press in 2007, edited, annotated, with a history of the Penobscot Nation and an introduction by Kolodny.

The April lecture is sponsored by the University of Maine Libra Professor Fund, USM Department of English, USM Faculty Commons, Women and Gender Studies Program, American and New England Studies Program, Department of History and Political Science and Department of Geography-Anthropology.