Book Takes Unique Approach to Dakota War Captivity Narratives

A recently published book by UALR Professor Zabelle Stodola examines a deadly confrontation between European Americans and Dakota Indians during the time of the Civil War by focusing on the writings of people taken captive during the conflict.

“The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature,” published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the first book to study the captivity and confinement narratives generated by a single American war. The Press has nominated the book for two prestigious awards: the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, and The John Hope Franklin Publication Prize, sponsored by the American Studies Association. Results will be announced later this year.

Stodola, who publishes as Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, examines the complex 1862 Dakota Conflict – also called the Dakota War – by focusing on 24 of the dozens of narratives that European Americans and Native Americans wrote about it.

The six-week war, the deadliest confrontation between whites and Dakotas in Minnesota’s history, occurred in 1862. It is sometimes called Minnesota’s Civil War because it was – and continues to be – divisive.

“The Dakota Conflict aroused impassioned prose from participants and commentators as they disputed causes, events, identity, ethnicity, memory, and the all-important matter of the war’s legacy,” Stodola said. “Though the study targets one region, its ramifications reach far beyond Minnesota in its attention to war and memory. An ethnography of representative Dakota Conflict narratives and an analysis of the war’s historiography, ‘The War in Words’ includes new archival information, historical data, and textual criticism.”

Reviewing the book for the Southwest Journal of Cultures, Prof. Wendy Lucas Castro said, “Everyone teaching the Dakota War or captivity narratives, or seeking a cultural lens into a microcosm of 19th century Indian Wars, will find this an essential addition to their library.”

Zabelle Stodola is a professor of English and director of the William G. Cooper, Jr., Honors Program in English at UALR. “The War in Words” is her fifth book.

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