Arts and Entertainment

Libraries' exhibit highlights Indigenous Peoples' roots/routes in the Americas

‘Indigenous Roots/Routes: Contested Histories, Contemporary Experiences’ exhibition is open through March 15, 2020, in the Special Collections Library

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Recognizing that Penn State was built on land belonging to the Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Shawnee and Susquehanna peoples, a new exhibition, “Indigenous Roots/Routes: Contested Histories, Contemporary Experiences,” reflects on the past five centuries of colonization and cultural exchange between Indigenous Peoples, Europeans, Africans and, later, Americans.

Located in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery, 104 Paterno Library on Penn State’s University Park campus, the exhibition is on display through March 15, 2020, during the Eberly Family Special Collections Library hours of operation.

'Save Oak Flat/Chi’chil Bildagoteel,' by Thomas GreyEyes and the San Carlos Apache. 2015 Digital print, from 'We are the Storm: Climate Portfolio.' Pittsburgh, PA: Culture Strike and Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, 2015.    Credit: Purchased with funds from the J. Harvey Fahnestock Endowment for Scientific, Engineering, and Rare Books, 2015.All Rights Reserved.

By drawing upon art and textual works from three major collections at Penn State — the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, the Matson Museum of Anthropology and the Palmer Museum of Art — the exhibition explores the processes of social, religious and political adaptation, what it means to be rooted in or unrooted from one’s land, and how searching out unfamiliar routes forces others to travel new ones.  

Some highlights of the rare books on display from the Special Collections Library include facsimiles of pre-Columbian codices; early texts by Antonio de Solís and John Smith; a page from the first Bible printed in North America in 1663 and translated into the Massachuset language spoken by Native Americans in eastern New England; and early 20th-century books written and designed by Indigenous women such as Pauline Johnson and Angel de Cora.

These texts are placed in dialogue with objects from the Matson Museum of Anthropology, including an Inca kero (drinking vessel), Amazonian featherwork, and ceremonial objects from the Taíno people. Works from the Palmer Museum of Art. including engravings by Theodor de Bry, are also on display.

Together the materials aim to force us to question how history is written and how it informs contemporary works by Indigenous artists and activists, including those by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Thomas Greyeyes.

The United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and the exhibition highlights these languages and the role of translation in moments of exchange between the first inhabitants of the Americas and those newly arrived.

“Indigenous Roots/Routes: Contested Histories, Contemporary Experiences” is curated by Samantha Davis, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History; Clara Drummond, curator and exhibitions coordinator in Special Collections; and Amara Solari, associate professor of art history and anthropology.

For more information or for questions about accommodations provided for this exhibition, email Drummond at or call the Special Collections Library reference desk at 814-865-1793.

Last Updated September 03, 2020