Castle McLaughlin spoke at the Indigenous Arts in Transition Seminar on Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Her talk was entitled “Dog Soldiers Don’t Need Picasso: Recovering the Indigenous Materiality of Plains Indian ‘Ledger Art.’”

Castle McLaughlin
is Curator of North American Ethnography at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. She received her BA in Anthropology from Indiana University and her MA, MPhil, and PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University. Before taking up her position at Harvard, McLaughlin previously held professorial and curatorial positions at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the Missouri Historical Society, Indiana University, Purdue University, and Southwestern University. She has curated or co-curated numerous exhibitions, including “The Legacy of Penobscot Canoes: A View from the River” (Peabody Museum, Harvard, 2014-2016), “Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West” (Peabody Museum, Harvard, 2009-2015), and “From Nation to Nation: Examining Lewis and Clark’s Indian Collection” (Peabody Museum, Harvard, 2003-2008). McLaughlin’s book-length publications include A Lakota War Book from the Little Bighorn: The Pictographic “Autobiography of Half Moon” (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library, Peabody Museum Press, 2013) and Arts of Diplomacy: Lewis and Clark’s Indian Collection (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2003).

In her talk at the BGC, McLaughlin described research on a recently discovered nineteenth-century ledger book filled with drawings by Plains Indians warriors that was originally collected on the Little Big Horn battlefield after the Custer fight in 1876. Analysis of the document has generated a new understanding of how Plains Indians responded to American national expansion and colonialism and how those responses were registered in graphic and material forms. While “ledger art” has been widely studied, it is apparent that scholarly interest in the images has deflected attention away from original indigenous meanings. Can current art historical efforts to incorporate indigenous material cultures into a universalist framework of “art” be reconciled with anthropology’s emphasis on culturally-specific knowledge and values?