AMHERST, Mass. — Martha A. Sandweiss, Ph.D., former director of the Mead Art Museum and former professor of history and American studies at Amherst College, returns on Thursday, Sept. 15, to deliver the 2011 Hugh Hawkins Lecture, “Unpacking a Photograph: Small Stories, Big Ideas and Tales of Race and Violence from the American West.” The lecture will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Pruyne Lecture Hall (115 Fayerweather Hall) at Amherst College.
Sandweiss, professor of history at Princeton since 2009, is the author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line (Penguin, 2009), which New York Times book critic Janet Maslin named one of the Top 10Books of 2009.
In the Hawkins lecture, Sandweiss will use as her starting point Alexander Gardner’s 1868 photograph of the Fort Laramie Peace Treaty negotiators ending Red Cloud’s War, but will go on to examine more generally the serendipity of historical research and the challenges of writing about the past from small and scattered bits of evidence.
Having tracked the stories of the participants memorialized in the photo, Sandweiss said, “That one photograph takes us to improbable places and leads us to extraordinary stories, and in the end helps us better understand the connections between the Civil War/Reconstruction and westward expansion.”
“Those stories also remind us that racial violence is woven very deeply into the fabric of the American past,” she added.
Sandweiss joined the Princeton faculty after two decades at Amherst College, where she taught in the Departments of Fine Arts, American Studies and History (in various combinations) from 1989 to 2009 and directed the Mead Art Museum from 1989 to 1997. Before arriving at Amherst, she was curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. She completed her undergraduate education at Harvard and earned her Ph.D. from Yale.
Sandweiss’ research and teaching focus on 19th-century U.S. history. Her 2002 bookPrint the Legend: Photography and the American West won the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American frontier history.
The lecture series is sponsored by the Department of History at Amherst College and named in honor of Hugh Hawkins, professor emeritus of history and American studies. A distinguished scholar of American higher education, of the American South and of cultural and intellectual history, Hawkins retired in 2000 after teaching for more than 40 years at Amherst, where he helped build both the history and the American studies departments.