Native Americans have long struggled for accurate representation in media, particularly in film. Whether the uncredited performances of the “documentary” Nanook of the North or the familiar racism of traditional Westerns, Indigenous cultures have rarely been given much truthful, let alone positive, attention. However, Native people have been slowly cultivating their own voice in film, and that voice is what Dr. Joanna Hearne has spent her academic career studying.
Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
“Collaboration is necessary for someone like me because I don’t have a field,” says Barker. “Am I an anthropological archaeologist or am I a museum director? I’m both. We often talk about interdisciplinary research; by necessity, mine is completely interdisciplinary. It is always sitting between and spanning multiple disciplines.” He collaborates, for example, with other museums and research centers, for example with Michael D. Glascock of the Missouri Reactor Center’s Archaeometry Laboratory.
“Most people don’t realize how complex ancient North America was,” notes Barker, and for a long time its history was based more on imagination than investigation: “One of the most important myths energizing the nineteenth century imagination was that of the moundbuilder. This was the idea that the ancient mounds of the southeastern and eastern United States had to have been built by an advanced race that was far too complex and far too ‘civilized’ to have been the ancestors of modern Native Americans. It is probably not a coincidence that this myth took off just about the time Indian lands began being taken away, reached a zenith during the period when lands were being taking away most rapidly; and when all the land had been taken away, the myth vanished.” Barker studies the myth to better understand how the past is constructed and construed in the present.