Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Historian Reflects on His Legacy: Herman Viola

I am proud of many things of the things I have accomplished during my career. One, I was the founding editor of Prologue, the historical quarterly published by the National Archives. Of course, my books have meant a great deal to me and to the people I wrote about, like John Stokes, who as a high school student in rural Virginia led a student strike for better schools that became part of the Civil Rights movement—Students on Strike; Lex Layson, who spent her youth as a Japanese prisoner in the Dutch East Indies during World War II—Lost Childhood; and Joseph Lekuton, a Massai young man who excelled in school in Kenya, became a school teacher in McLean, Virginia, and then returned to his tribal homeland where he was elected to Parliament and is being talked about as president of Kenya-- Facing the Lion.

But I am most proud of having started the first intern program for American Indians at the Smithsonian.  When I started there in 1972, no Indians were employed by the Smithsonian.  Soon after I arrived at the Anthropology archives I was visited by an Indian working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs who asked me if I would allow Indians to do research in the anthropology archives. I was startled by the request because anyone could come and do research.  He pointed out that Indians thought they needed a PHD to do research at the Smithsonian and, besides, few could afford the trip to Washington, D.C.  The result of his visit was the American Indian Cultural Resources Training Program, which I administered for nearly 20 years.  We provided room and board to Indian interns to come to D. C. to do research on their tribes in the collections of the Smithsonian, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress.  They would stay up to 3 months.  At first they lived in my house, with neighbors, and with close friends.  Eventually, Congress provided better funding and things took off.  Now, all that is handled by the Museum of the American Indian.  Because of my work with Indians, I was approached about being the first deputy director of the Indian Museum. I did not get the post because I am not an Indian.   My program was extremely successful and several of my trainees gained prominence.  A Navajo woman, Lorraine Big Man, became the first accredited Indian librarian.  A Gros Ventre, George Horse Capture, became the senior curator at the Indian Museum.  A Navajo, Harry Walters, became a curator at the museum in Chinlee, Arizona.  His wife Anna, who was my secretary for a while, became a published author.

Dr. Herman J. Viola is a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. A specialist on the history of the American West, he served as director of the Museum's National Anthropological Archives in addition to organizing two major exhibitions for the Smithsonian. "Magnificent Voyagers" told the story of the United State Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, and "Seeds of Change" examined the exchange of plants, animals, and diseases between the Old and the New Worlds as a result of the Christopher Columbus voyages of discovery. Prior to joining the staff of the Smithsonian Institution in 1972, he was an archivist at the National Archives of the United States, where he launched and was first editor of Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives.

Dr. Viola's research specialties include the American Indian, the Civil War, and the exploration of the American West. He has authored numerous books on these topics, including Exploring the West, After Columbus, Warrior Artists, Warriors in Uniform,  The North American Indians, and Little Bighorn Remembered: the Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand. He is also the author of the middle school social studies textbook, Why We Remember.

Dr. Viola received his B.A. and M.A. from Marquette University, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University/Bloomington.

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