Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jane Tompkins Essay

Essay on Jane Tompkins

Jane Tompkins, author of “Indians,” questions the validity of every research, every history book, and every opinion turned fact that has been written. She first writes her perspective as a small child and her own juvenile understanding of Indians. It is as she imagines herself as an Indian playing in the caves that is the pleasurable perspective of an Indian. When her parents took her to meet real Indians, it was always a disappointment for her. She would see them for who they were and even the feathers and blankets and a real Indian in full headdress was not fun, perhaps this perspective would be different if the Indians were excited to see her as she was to see them, perhaps not. Tompkins believes after researching herself the relationship between the Indians and the settlers, those facts, although seemingly true, has a biased attached with it. Thinking critically about this can lead to the questioning of every thing ever written about history. The difficulty she faced in finding the truth about what happened to the Indians in the hands of the settlers questions the value of what society has been assuming is the truth. In almost every history book she read different interpretations of the same story and what were found were not only different interpretations, but completely opposite recordings of history. This leads to the question of which research to believe and why. An answer to that question will not be attempted in this essay.

Tompkins illustrates the importance of finding the answer that best suits the question, by reading different written works from different perspectives.

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In simpler language, it concerns the difference that point of view makes when people are giving accounts of events, whether at first or second hand. The problem is that if all accounts of events are determined through and through by the observer's frame of reference, then one will never know, in any given case, what really happened.

Tompkins, who was inspired to conduct this research because she was teaching a lecture about the subject for college students, could have easily followed the standard of today’s lecturer’s and restated the first thing she read about the Indians and Settler’s relationship. That is the way our educational system works for many of the students today. Students hear what teachers want them to hear, and many teachers validate what they are teaching because they read it in some book claiming to be the truth. The truth is that history might not ever have an accurate description of what happened hundreds of years ago. People might think they do, but proof of this is almost impossible to come by. Even the most reliable source, such as Tompkins example of the writings of a girl taken prisoner by the Indians, can be biased. The writings taken from the prisoner girl seemingly must be true because the girl was actually there, but the perspective she was taking tainted her truths.

Upon reaching the village, the child might face such ordeals as running the gauntlet or dancing in the center of a throng of threatening Indians.

Tompkins also illustrates the conflicting ideas of first hand evidence of writings of two people describing the same culture. One man describes the Indians as beasts who need to be conquered for their own good, another man describes how wonderful it would be to be captured by them and live with and among them. These two very different ideas of Indians illustrate the importance of perspectives and objectiveness. The man describing the Indians as ruthless beasts had his own perspective of possibly not the Indians, but of the situation. These accounts were made by a minister, “who wishes to convince his readers that the Indians are in need of conversion” (page ). Someone who might read this description of the Indians may believe this man because unlike any historian, he was there with the Indians. This does not make his claim true however. It only makes clear the importance of taking into account all information given and deriving the truth from an individual point of view.

In the future anthropology might be somewhat easier because of the advances in technology, the recordings of the world’s history can never be totally accurate. It is important for anthropologists to be careful to avoid bias in his or her research. They should gather together the perspectives of the ones who were there and draw together the contradicting points of view. It is also very important that when claiming facts one must not include their own perspective, but only the undeniable facts. There are 75 members of the tribe, the weather was 92 degrees, their houses were made of mud; these are examples of facts that should be recorded as such.

Observations that include things such as, they are a violent tribe, their nutrition habits are horrible, their ideas of religion is tainted, are just that, observations, and should not be recorded as facts. It makes you wander about our past, and our future. It is easy for an archeologist to get their facts straight. When they dig they receive those important elements that help draw conclusions, they have only facts. In the case of the interpersonal and intercultural anthropology we will tend to shape the facts of the world around us to best represent our perspective.

If the experience of encountering conflicting versions of the "same" events suggests anything certain it is that the attitude a historian takes up in relation to a given event, the way in which he or she judges and even describes "it"--and the "it" has to go in quotation marks because, depending on the perspective, that event either did or did not occur--this stance, these judgments and descriptions are a function of the historian's position in relation to the subject.

I believe this perspective is essential to our understanding of the world. All though history may pull events in one direction or another the facts will exist in one person’s perspective. Through this we can conclude two simple “facts”. One, before drawing any conclusion of history, look at both sides and find conflict and then draw your own big picture. Two, before placing a judgment, experience the people to the best of your ability and draw as accurate a record as possible. These two things will help ensure a future history that draws as accurately as possible a record of any said event, person or “reality”.


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