Years ago I engaged in taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. I felt drawn toward more empowerment for myself through education. The first study which captured my imagination was in the Humanities program. That program was focused around comparative world mythologies (AKA Joseph Campbell) and captured my imagination and attention through at least three classes. I eventually received a Associates of Arts in Humanities. Most of my classes where with Professor Cott Hobart. He would say that his classes were taught at the community college level because many professors believed that that level of education should be available to everyone. When I first began SRJC classes were $6 a credit hour, and the year I graduated in 1993 they were $13, with a cap of $60 a term for as many hours as we could take. My books each term cost way more than what I paid for the credit hours. I didn’t know how good I had it at the time.
Professor Hobart told stories of living in a turkey coop. The reference is to the fact that his house was a renovation of a turkey coop, a common enough situation in the 1980s, because the region was known for raising millions of chickens and turkeys. The city of Petaluma, just up Highway 22, was known as the Chicken Capital of the World for many decades in the 20th century. I visited his house once for a class meeting. We all brought some food and shared our stories.
I took Hobart’s classes at least three times, and at first, was not the best of students. Once, I challenged his grading in class. The issue was a question on the midterm about a Greek myth involving Zeus. The question was how did Zeus show his favor to a son. My answer was that he granted his son a wish. It was marked wrong, so in class I challenged the professor twice, continuing to raise the issue of “Is it not the case that the simple granting of a wish is a sign that the boy was Zeus’ son?” My thought was that the granting of a favor itself is a sign on the son’s heritage and Zeus’ affection for his son, because Zeus would not grant a favor to just anyone. I was convincing enough that he granted me full credit for the answer, increasing my overall letter grade.
Later, I met with him in his office and he told me that I did not fit my type. I took that as a complement at the time. Later rethinking that comment, I felt he was being a bit racist, me looking obviously Native American or at least minority. The final class I took, I wrote a paper about the figure of Coyote in Native American mythologies. It was titled Great Chief Coyote, and focused on the way he taught people through trickery. That education is a trick. The trick is to educate people without them realizing it. Good storytelling does this, and many people learn best in this manner. Similarly, Hobart spoke at length in each class about how receiving an A is a trick. That essentially, the student must trick the professor through their work, and class interaction, into giving them an A. I did not get a lot of A’s in his classes, except for the last, I having by that time learned the trick.
The most interesting class I took was about the Odyssey of Homer. I wrote my final paper about Telemachus, the son of Ulysses. I wrote about how his own journey in the book is much like that of his father, over the 20 years or so, time span of the Odyssey. It is the journey of the hero, from experiential learning, to realization, to a return to home, to a full realization of their responsibilities. At that point, the story resonated with the journey of my own life, especially once I returned to Oregon.
Just about the last term I was at SRJC, I happened upon and bought a bound class packet created by Professor Hobart, called “The Proper Study”. The book is full of humanities writings in the western tradition. Its a very good compendium of western humanities.
In 1994, I entered the University of Oregon in a Humanities degree program. After a few classes, I began questioning the notion of Humanities as exhibited at the University of Oregon. The Humanities Studies classes at UO were always about the cultural products of Western Civilization. There was no academic content that included world cultures or Indigenous peoples. I began to formulate an idea for a new “Proper Study” that was formulated around the ways in which western civilization interacted with and affected Indigenous peoples and societies. This new direction, led me to take seemingly random Humanities, History, Art History and Anthropology classes, across the spectrum of cultural periods. The normal focus or track that I was supposed to study, of one cultural era in western civilization, (ie: Romantic, Modern, Classic, etc.) was not the direction I took, and so when it came time for me to graduate, my adviser was somewhat confused, and did not know how to quantify my credits and study into their rigid system. I had to write a special petition explaining my study, to be the effects of Western Civilization on Native American Cultures. This allowed me to create a whole new system of Humanities study and include the concurrent study of Indigenous and Native peoples. A new “Proper Study”.
My thought is that all the cultural products of the world peoples, cultures, societies, etc. are or should be a Humanities Study. This petition was successful, and I graduated in 1997 with a BA in Humanities. Later in 1997, I continued my studies by entering International Studies, in a tract focused on Indigenous peoples and Cross-Cultural Communication. This study was taught mainly by Dr. Robert Proudfoot, a Haudenosaunee professor at the UO.
To be continued…
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.