Indigenous Pennsylvania

Course Basics

Anthropology 289-00: Special Topic: Indigenous Pennsylvania
Prerequisites: ATH 112 or ATH 155 or permission of the instructor.
This course satisfies the DE requirement for general academic requirements (GAR) at Muhlenberg College. It counts towards Anthropology, Sustainability Studies and American Studies.

Instructor Information

Dr. Benjamin Carter
Up-to-date contact information (including office hours) is available here

General Policies

All students are required to read Dr. Carter’s Policies. You are responsible for understanding and following these policies. If you have a question, I hope you will ask during class since fellow students will likely have similar questions. However, you are also welcome to ask after class or visit office hours.

Course Unit Instruction

Course Unit Instruction: This class is scheduled to meet for 3 hours per week. Additional instructional activities for the course include attendance at specified College lectures and events and required writing workshops distributed across the semester. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction.

Course Description

In 1737, the colonial government of Pennsylvania (essentially the Penn family), through what is called the Walking Purchase, stole over a million acres of land from the indigenous people of eastern Pennsylvania, known as the Lenape (or the colonial term, Delaware). This course will examine the lives of PreColumbian Lenape, colonization and dispossession, the 100 year migration to the lands they now occupy and the present day sovereign Lenape nations. The course will center us on the perspective of the Lenape through archaeology, historical documents, recent scholarly publications, videos, podcasts and graphic novels. While the focus is upon the Lenape, we must also to other area indigenous groups such as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Susquehannock/Conestoga/Minqua. Students will critically engage with the ways in which land is central to understandings of history and with ways in which historical injustices may be addressed.

Course Objectives

In terms of content, students will be able to:

  • Understand Lenape/ Delaware history and current situation of sovereign nations.
  • Understand that recognition of indigenous identity today is the domain of indigenous people but that this has been made much more difficult by colonization, removal, genocide and cultural genocide.
  • Recognize the importance of centering indigenous voices on topics directly related to indigenous peoples and beyond.
  • Describe how the Walking Purchase was a scam and a theft intentionally perpetrated by the Penn family and those around them.
  • Demonstrate how William Penn’s ideology of treating indigenous peoples with respect was undermined by his own identity and his need for wealth and status.
  • Recognize how the depopulation of indigenous people in Pennsylvania through  disease and warfare contributed to their forced removal.
  • Connect historic thefts, removals and other violations to the location(s) and situations of indigenous people in the United States today.
  • Explicate how historic processes allowed government officials and the average colonialist to develop racist portrayals of indigenous peoples.
  • Describe how these processes perpetuate these same identities today- though in (partially) modified forms and connect these portrayals to the treatment of indigenous activists and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
  • Recognize that what has happened (and continues to happen) to the Lenape/ Delaware is based upon a colonialist ideology of superiority.
  • Consider that the historic mistreatment of indigenous people, including those in Pennsylvania, was not a forgone conclusion and that alternative histories were possible.
  • Reflect on their own positionality relative to indigenous people in the United States.
  • Consider appropriate actions based upon the content of the course.


One book is required for this course. Other readings will be online in the form of webpages and/or pdfs.

Required book: Barker, Joanne. 2021. The Red Scare: The State’s Indigenous Terrorist. Oakland: University of California Press.

I also highly encourage you to purchase the book below- this is one way to support indigenous authors, artists and publishers. However, they have also published the entire book online, so you do not need to buy it.

Francis, Lee IV, and Weshoyot Alvitre. 2019. Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga. First edition. Philadelphia, PA: The Library Company of Philadelphia ;

Class format

The class is structured around three books and supplemental readings and videos. Many, but not all of these are, authored by indigenous people. While I (Dr. Carter) have tried to include as many indigenous voices as possible, this is still a work in progress.  The first book starts at the present and identifies ways in which indigenous peoples are constructed as “terrorists”- that is enemies of the state- at the same time that their cultures and ancestries are appropriated by the (white) majority. This book will aid in reflection on how historic events in the past fundamentally structure our world today. The second section (including the other two books) we focus on the land that we now call Pennsylvania (specifically the location of Muhlenberg College).  In this section, we walk through the history of genocide, cultural genocide, theft of land and removal. 

The daily structure of class will focus on discussion and analysis of the reading. I hope to do this in a heterachical manner in which our perspectives on the readings are seen as coming from specific and differing contexts. The goal is to aid us in thinking, not just about indigenous peoples of Pennsylvania, but about the processes of colonization, white supremacy and how those impact our world today. That said, Dr. Carter will attempt to guide the course through the assigned readings.


Distribution of Assessments

  • Communal annotation- 25%
  • Timeline of the Walking Purchase- 10%
  • Ghost River In-Class Assignment- 10%
  • Journal Entries- 25%
  • Final Paper- 20%
  • Participation- 10%

Brief Descriptions of Assessments (you will receive much more information about these in Canvas)

Communal Annotation: For each class you will annotate (in a variety of different ways) the assigned readings/ videos. The goal is to share reflections, questions and responses.

Timeline of the Walking Purchase: The goal is to construct a timeline of important events before, during and after the infamous Walking Purchase. This is intended to be an resource that you can take from this class. In order to keep track of events we will create a Timeline using Timeline.js.

Ghost River In-Class Assignment: Ghost River is a graphic novel authored, drawn and published by indigenous peoples. It addresses the Conestoga Massacre of 1763 in which 20 unarmed indigenous  (specifically Conestoga or Susquehannock) men, women and children were killed, scalped and dismembered by the “Paxton Boys,” a white supremacist militia, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  We will use this to reflect on ways in which indigenous scholarship has been excluded- particularly in academia- and ways in which it is available. And we will consider the important of considering the event through an indigenous perspective.

Journal Entries: Spaced at approximately every two weeks, this assignment allows students additional time to reflect on what we have read and discussed over the two weeks. In many ways, this builds upon the above assignments.

Final Paper: The Final paper builds on the journal entries. The essential question, is “What do you think is essential that the American public (specifically in Pennsylvania) understand about past and present of indigenous peoples in Pennsylvania?”

Participation: You are required to participate in each and every class. This will be assessed to the best of my ability. There are a few basic principles to remember to ensure a good grade.

First, COME TO CLASS. Is there any question why this is important? This class is NOT about memorizing a set of facts, but engaging with complex ideas and being able to deploy appropriate facts and methods in support (or not) of those ideas.

Second, READ all of the required material. That does not mean look at each and every word on the assigned pages. It means actually try to understand what is written. This is not a quick process. Expect to spend a significant amount of time reading!

Third, THINK. I will present you with a significant amount of material. You need to think about it. If you regurgitate what I say, you will likely pass but you probably won’t learn a lot. If you think about what I say and ask probing questions, you will learn (and likely get a much, much higher grade!).

Fourth, SHARE. The more you contribute to the class conversation, the more everyone will learn. It’s just that simple. This means that I encourage you to take risks. Ask that “stupid” question- it could be really important and it is probably NOT “stupid.”

 Class LMS (“Learning” Management System)

For this course, we will be using our Learning Management System (LMS) known as Canvas. Our schedule and many course materials live on Canvas. You will turn in most assignments via Canvas. Canvas provides excellent online documentation for nearly anything. Here is a link to the Student Guide. However, even Canvas representatives have encouraged us to just Google “canvas lms” and whatever you want to do (e.g., if you want to find the location of the calendar, just google “Canvas lms calendar”).


Your official calendar is in Canvas. I highly encourage you to download the app (just Google “Canvas lms” along with your platform, e.g., “IOS” or “Android”) and/or synchronize your Canvas calendar with your calendar on your phone/computer using the iCal feed (Click here for instructions; note that what you do on your phone depends upon your device, but it is pretty straight forward).

Additional Resources

The Lenape Talking Dictionary.