Douglas Hunter, a SSHRC post-doctoral fellow in History working under Susan Roy, has won the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) Dissertation Award for his work on the lore surrounding Dighton Rock, a 40-ton, petroglyph-covered boulder in a Massachusetts riverbed.
Who created the inscriptions on the boulder has been a source of great debate and speculation since 1680, making it “one of the most contested artifacts of American antiquity,” says Hunter. Some believed the writing belonged to Vikings, Phoenicians, an ancient Semitic people, or visitors from Atlantis. In his dissertation, “Stone of Power: Dighton Rock, Colonization and the Erasure of an Indigenous Past,” Hunter argues the reluctance to attribute the petroglyphs to Indigenous people speaks to the impact of colonization on leading thinkers at the time.
By disenfranchising Indigenous peoples from their own past in the interpretations of Dighton Rock and other seeming archaeological puzzles, colonizers have sought to answer to their own advantage two fundamental questions: to whom does America belong, and who belongs in America?
Each year, CAGS recognizes outstanding Canadian doctoral dissertations that make significant, original contributions to both the academic community and to Canadian society.
Hunter wrote and defended his thesis at York University, having returned to academia for PhD studies after a 30-year gap. His work at York was supported by a Vanier Canada graduate scholarship as well as the William E. Taylor Fellowship, both from SSHRC.
Here at Waterloo, Hunter’s postdoctoral work with Professor Roy focuses on interpretations of rock art in eastern North America and how these have impacted Indigenous identity and territory. He also continues research on migration theory, as well as a phenomenon he has named “white tribism,” based on centuries of stories of white people interbreeding with Indigenous people in the Americas before Columbus. In the winter term, Hunter will teach a public history course for undergraduates. In addition, he is writing a book on the Beardmore Viking relic hoax at the Royal Ontario Museum for McGill-Queen’s University Press.
An updated version of Hunter’s doctoral thesis will be published by the University North Carolina Press in fall 2017.
Hunter will be speaking at the presentation of the Sally Weaver Award for the most promising MA student in the Department of Anthropology on Nov. 4.