Department of History
Old Horticulture
506 E. Circle Dr
Room 256
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Main: 517.355.7500
Fax: 517.353.5599
Email: history [at] msu [dot] edu
Hours: 8:00-5:00 M-F

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Graduate Historians’ Association

The Graduate Historians’ Association is an organization dedicated to the study of history at the graduate level. Membership is open to any graduate student at Michigan State University. The association organizes and sponsors periodic events for graduate students to meet and share research, and also maintains an email list for graduate student announcements. All graduate students in the Department of History are automatically added to the list. The GHA is currently soliciting research presentations for an upcoming series of monthly brownbags. These are designed to help graduate students prepare conference presentations and job talks in a collegial atmosphere. Anyone interested in presenting should email one of the officers.


Monday, October 22, 2012 – 4:30pm, History Department Conference Room — Ashley Wiersma

“Civilization, American Indians, and the Noble Savage Myth in French Colonial and American Discourses”

The concepts of civilisation, barbarie, and sauvagerie and the notion of le bon sauvage, or the “Noble Savage,” were central to French colonialism in terms of knowledge production, colonial power, justifications for colonization, and became fundamental to the way in which Frenchmen understood themselves, their identity, and their place in the world. The significance of these concepts outlasted the French colonial empire in North America and became equally important in American efforts to define a distinct identity during the creation and expansion of the United States. This paper explores both the origins of the ideas of civilization, barbarism, and the myth of the Noble Savage in early modern and Enlightenment French discourses and their legacy in the early American Republic and argues that encounters with real and imagined American Indians was central to the development of the concept of civilization and identity formation in two colonial empires.