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Philip J. Deloria, former University of Michigan professor, became Harvard University’s first tenured Native-American studies professor last week after having taught in the History and American Culture Department at the University for over ten years. Deloria specialized in Native-American history and also served as the associate dean for Undergraduate and Graduate Education in LSA, director of the Program in American Culture and acting director of the Native American Studies Program. In his time at the University, Deloria was an outspoken advocate for Native American students and inequalities in higher education.
Deloriaa earned his doctorate degree in American Studies from Yale University and taught at University of Colorado before coming to the University. He became a Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor in 2009.
“At Michigan, I was really fortunate to be involved in building the Native American Studies program,” Deloria said. “I feel like my time at Michigan was full of really good things and it was really productive and important.”
Deloria began teaching this winter at Harvard in a transitional semester, teaching a graduate seminar in Native-American studies. Beginning next semester, he will teach an introductory course on Native-American studies — which would look similar to the course he taught at the University — and an introductory seminar for graduate students on the same subject. Deloria looks forward to his time at Harvard and hopes to accomplish the similar goals he achieved at the University.
“At Harvard, I am hoping to do a little more of the same,” Deloria said. “It’s a different institution with different challenges and it’s an institution that is really interested in Native-American issues.”
Deloria discussed his latest scholarly project on researching global indigenous people in countries such as Taiwan, Australia and Scandinavia. He said Harvard will allow him to further explore these areas.
“I’ve got a real interest in global indigenous connections and some experience with Taiwan and Australia and Scandinavia,” Deloria said. “Harvard is a place where I think it could be interesting to learn about indigenous groups.”
History department chair James Cook, University professor of history and American studies, discussed the close relationship he has had with Deloria and the lasting effect he had on his colleagues. Cook and Deloria began their time at the University around the same time in 2001 and Cook said they have since been close colleagues and friends.
“We have supported each other’s work in many ways.” Cook said. “I am very sad about that, he is one of my closest friends and colleagues here and I understand why this was a good move for him and really wish him well.”
Deloria comes from a Native-American family with his father and grandfather as Native-American intellectual leaders, setting the foundation for his love of Native-American history. He often brings his Native-American legacy into the classroom. Rackham student Matthew Villeneuve described how he would accompany his lectures with Sioux songs, bison hides and by singing protest ballads on his guitar.
“Phil’s not just one of the best scholars of American-Indian history, but he is also a tremendously creative thinker in American Studies, and a wonderful mentor and teacher,” Villeneuve said in an email interview. “I’m guessing these kinds of folks don’t come along very often. I’m excited to see the intellectual community that Phil is able to gather in Cambridge and I can’t wait to see what he does with the place.”
Deloria looks forward to making a difference at Harvard and beyond.
“It’s a chance to make a difference at a big institution and to make a difference like this at this institution, is to make a difference in the wider world.” Deloria said.