Classics vs. US history / Cherokee Constitution

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Classics vs. US history / Cherokee Constitution

Jan. 27, 1:28am

The following expands on a recent Twitter rant. I'm curious to see if any of this resonates with people.

As a former classics guy, I'm always surprised by the tools difference between Classics and US history.

I recently got into the first Cherokee Constitution, a fascinating document by which Cherokees established a republican government in 1827.

As a classicist my work focused on Greek-non-Greek interaction. Jews, Romans, Carthaginians, Indians, Lycians, etc. So I'm used to thinking about how ideas "catch" between cultures. In that connection the "civilizing" of the Cherokee is a fascinating topic. I mean, the Constitution has both massive borrowing from the US Constitution and Cherokee matrilineality!

But what struck me most is the lack of scholarship, especially the "tools" classicists take for granted. If this were classics there'd be multiple line-by-line commentaries—philological, historical, legal, cultural—grounding everything. On language alone, it'd be fascinating to trace phrases to the US and Georgia Constitutions, prior Cherokee law, Cherokee language, etc.

After that, there would be multiple books dedicated to plumbing everything about the Constitution itself—to the very limits of what's knowable. But if that exists, I surely can't find it.

What you have is the next layer--synthetic accounts of the period which mention and quote the Constitution but are focused on larger questions—important questions, to be sure. To this classicist it feels like a meal appearing magically, when nobody's plucked a chicken or sliced carrots.

I shouldn't be surprised. I double majored in classics and US history—and chose grad school in classics in part because of the sources and the approach to them. I wrote two senior theses. For American history I found no limit to sources, and my best progress was simply in finding more. In classics I had a very limited set of sources to begin with—at its heart a single inscription!—and I found that my best progress simply came from thinking about it.

In the end, Classics has been chewing over a constant, limited set of texts for a long time now, while American historians are drowning in sources. And classics has a whole method grounded in philology that American history just doesn't go in for much.

Still, I found it exciting. Someone could write the definite commentary and analysis of the Cherokee Constitution.

FWIW, here's a page on a copy of the 1827 Constitution—possibly penned by Sam Houston*—which has a link to the best-formatted version.

*So far as I can tell, the original does not survive. Another early version was published in the Cherokee Phoenix. A quick look and I can see numerous small differences. It cries out for a stemma! Oh, and "possibly."
*Also, holy fucking hell, Batman. We're not talking about classicists making complicated authorial arguments from 20 words on a scrap of papyrus. This is a lengthy, perfectly preserved document. We have scads of other documents in Houston's handwriting too. If someone cared, they could damn well figure out whether it's by Houston! Do I have to go down there and shake someone?

Jan. 27, 2:55am

Have you visited the ? They have a lot of information there in an exhibit that might help you in your search.