Pulitzer Prize-winning historian to focus on Sakagawea in Kollman Lecture

A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian will visit Cornell to reveal the history of the American West through the life of Sakagawea.

 University of Colorado Boulder Professor of Western American History Elizabeth Fenn is currently working on an extensive biography of Sakagawea.

“The circumstances of Sakagawea’s life suggest that the history of the American West is first and foremost the history of native peoples,” Fenn said.

She will share her discoveries in a talk called “Sakagawea’s Capture and the History of the Early West” at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Kimmel Theatre on the Cornell College campus. Following the lecture the author will sign books, which will be available for purchase.

Cornell’s history department has selected the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner in history as this year’s Kollman lecturer. For more than 30 years, the history department has invited speakers to campus as part of the Eric C. Kollman Memorial Lecture Series.

Many people have heard of Sakagawea and her adventures with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but Professor Fenn said there’s much more to the story.

“This history is much longer, more complicated, and more interesting than a simple narrative of U.S. expansion indicates,” Fenn said.

Fenn’s planning to share more details about the Native American woman’s life in the American West, focusing on her capture by the Hidatsa people around 1800.

“I argue that her experience sheds light on a deep history of the Northern Plains and Rockies that goes back hundreds of years,” Fenn said.

The professor said the history of the American West has made a lot of progress when it comes to putting native people in the spotlight, but there’s still work to be done.

“We still need to incorporate this history into the popular canon,” Fenn said. “I had a light-bulb moment when I realized that Sakagawea’s life intersected with many of the people, places, and events that take center stage in this new history. Her story can thus be a way of conveying something much bigger.”

Fenn said she is looking forward to her visit to Cornell College in October. The event is free and open to the public.

Previous Kollman lecturers have included Saul Cornell with “A Well Regulated Militia: The Second Amendment as History and Myth,” Peter Gay with “The Art of Listening: From Entertainment to Ecstasy,” and Walter P. Metzger with “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.”

Eric C. Kollman was a distinguished professor of history at Cornell College from 1944 until his retirement in 1973.