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<font size=2><i><center>Adapted from The North American Indian Portfolios, 1993 ~ Library of Congress</center></i></font>
Adapted from The North American Indian Portfolios, 1993 ~ Library of Congress
Starting Research
A Beginners Guide to Southeastern Indian Studies

by Jason Baird Jackson

in 19th Century Seminole Men`s Clothing
Rick Obermeyer ~ Editor

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Men's Clothing


Much of the work presented in this workbook has been compiled by amateur researchers. Like you, they began with an interest in Seminole culture and history. As they tried to learn more about men's clothing, they found that there was more to finding out the "why and how to" than buying a book on Seminole men's clothing and reading it. No book existed. To understand how Seminole clothing "worked" would require visiting museums, talking to Native American seamstresses, reading dusty anthropology journals, and networking with other people interested in the same subject. These are some of the many types of things which go into doing research. If your interest in Seminole clothing, has sparked a desire to learn more, then hopefully this paper will help you discover some of the excitement which can be found in doing your own investigations.

Doing research is much like doing detective work. No two people go about it the same way. Some people keep meticulous notes of everything they do, others people learn by simply watching others and trying to "get a feel for what's going on". How you do research will depend on: who you are, what you are interested in, where you live, and what resources (time, money, and information) you have available to you. The purpose here is to cut out some of the aggravation of starting up by sharing some basic information and maybe a hint or two.

Why should I do research?

Before setting out, it may be useful to clarify what exactly is being talked about. For our purpose, research can mean two things. First, research is finding out things that other people know, but which you do not. For instance, you may not know the names of the Indian tribes that lived in Florida before the Seminole. If you read a book on Florida history and find out who they were, then you have done research. The second meaning we can give to doing research is more involved. If you were interested in why the Cherokee and Choctaw both made belts decorated with white beads in a spiral pattern, and the Creek and Seminole did not, then that would be research too. The difference is that nobody has sat down and figured out an answer to this question yet. To get an answer, you would have to work as a scientist works and come up with an idea which is supported by evidence. Then you would have made a contribution to our understanding, yourself.

One of the points to be made here is that anyone can discover something which is interesting or useful; if not to someone else, then at least to themselves. Historians, anthropologists and other research types are usually interested in "big questions" of one sort or another. Unfortunately, "small questions" which are still interesting and important often go unaddressed. How were the tassels of a bandolier bag attached to the bag? Well, if nobody else is going to figure it out,-then there is no reason why you can't.

Beyond this claim that your work can produce new understandings, it should also be noted that this type of investigation can make your interest or hobby more meaningful and fun. In addition, by learning more, you can become a resource for helping other people. Most Americans still hold inaccurate, stereotypical ideas about Native American people both in the past and the present. As someone with a clearer understanding of Native Americans, you can assume responsibility for teaching others.

In the Beginning There Were Libraries

With libraries and books is where most people begin their research. Books are usually the most general source of information you will find on a subject. Most books on the Southeastern Indians are either history books or ethnographies. History books most often describe trade with the Indians, the Indian wars, and the removal of the tribes to Indian Territory. Ethnographies are descriptions of Indian society and culture written by anthropologists and other types of social scientists. J. Leitch Wright's book Creeks and Seminoles is a good example of a Southeastern history. James Howard's Oklahoma Seminoles is a great example of Southeastern ethnography.

Books are the best way to get a broad overview of a subject quickly. Rarely will they tell you exactly how many necklaces Osceola wore, or how many people could ride comfortably in a dugout canoe during a hurricane, but they will give you the background to understand the other sources of information which are available to you.

Libraries are the place to start looking for books. College libraries are the best place to look, followed by public and school libraries. Most towns today are reasonably close to a university or community college and most of the libraries at these schools are the best source of books. Almost all schools will allow the public to browse the stacks, and community colleges sometimes make cards available to the public. If you cannot check books out, you can often photocopy the parts you want to take with you. Another solution if your public library does not have the books you are looking for is to request them through interlibrary loan. This is a program where libraries borrow books from one another. Most public libraries participate in this program. Contact the reference librarian at your library for assistance. The greater the amount of information you can provide the librarian with, the quicker they will be able to get you the book you request, so take good notes.

One last note about libraries. Most libraries today, if they haven't done so already, are in the process of reorganizing their collections. The old Dewey Decimal System which everyone was taught in grade school is being replaced by what is know by the Library of Congress System. Among other things, this system is designed to make collections in various libraries more uniform. Also most libraries are doing away with the old fashioned card catalog and replacing it with computerized indexes. These systems allow you to quickly find books by author, title and subject. The Florida State University System for instance uses a system nicknamed LUIS in which you can search the catalogs of any library in the system from the computer terminals found in all of the libraries. You can even look up books from home by using a computer and a modem. All of the changes in libraries may seem overwhelming, but most reference librarians are very willing to explain how to find what you want with a minimum of fuss.2

One Thousand Paces and No Pictures: An Introduction to Journals

Another resource to be found in libraries are journals. Journals are periodicals (They are published periodically just like magazines and newspapers.) which are usually published between two and six times a year. The are often sponsored by a professional society, The Oklahoma Historical Society, for instance, publishes a useful journal called The Chronicles of Oklahoma. Unlike magazines which print articles of wide interest, journals publish articles written by scholars (historians, anthropologists, physicians etc.) for other scholars. Now, before you get turned off, it should be noted that most of these societies, especially state historical and anthropological societies welcome both amateur and professional members. Much of the most useful information on the Seminoles, for instance, was recorded by non-professionals. It was Louis Capron, a writer not an anthropologist, who discovered the Seminole medicine bundles. This was one of the most important discoveries in Southeastern anthropology, and is still impressive even after forty years.

Even if you are not ready to call yourself a scholar, journal articles will provide a great deal of information for your studies. A journal article is usually between ten and thirty pages long, and is sort of a souped-up version of a high school term paper. To be published, the author of a journal article generally must present some new facts or ideas about his or her subject. Ideally this means that with each new article on a subject, more information about the subject is known. This accumulation of facts is known as "adding to the literature".

College libraries will be the best source of journals. Normally they can't be checked out, but articles are usually short enough that they can be photocopied. Copying is preferable anyway, so that you will be able to refer back to the articles later on. Journals use volume numbers just like magazines, but don't be surprised to find that a particular journal begins on page 876. Most journals use what is called continuous page numbering. Each volume begins with page one, and numbering continues consecutively through the year. Another hint in using journals is to read each article's abstract. An abstract is a short summary of the article placed at its beginning. This summary will tell you quickly whether the article covers something which you are interested in.

Bibliographies. The Great Time Saver

In your library travels, you will encounter two types of bibliographies, both of which will prove extremely valuable. The first type is the list of sources which is found at the end of a book or article. This is a list of all the writings which the author quoted in his own work. The second type of bibliography is actually a book which lists many sources on a particular topic. Michael Green's The Creeks: a critical bibliography and Harry Kersey's The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes: a critical bibliography are two useful examples. Both types of bibliographies can help you by pointing out other items you may wish to consult.

Where to next? The Museum

After you have gotten some library time under your belt, it is time to explore some of the other ways in which you can conduct your research. If you are interested in material culture (the fancy word for things people make), then museums should be on your list of places to go.

The first thing to learn about museums is that they are kind of like icebergs. The part everyone sees when they pass by is very small compared to what is hidden underneath. The part of a museum's collection which is on display at any given time, is usually only a fraction of what the museum possesses. Why? If you ask, you will be given many reasons. Display space is expensive, while storage is not. If all the items were on display at once, then the museum could never change it's displays. Some items are so fragile that they are stored in special ways which prevent them from being displayed. Some items are set aside for research. The reasons seem endless. None the less, many museums do have very good displays which can be studied. In addition, it is often possible to get special permission to see collections in storage. To do this requires planning and patience. The best thing to do is to find out who the curator responsible for the collection is, and then write them and discuss your interests. Sometimes museums have strict rules which you will not be able to avoid, but at other museums curators so rarely have anyone interested that they will often prove very helpful. Competent correspondence and behavior on your part is the key.

If you gain access to a collection, photography will be your top priority. If you are given permission to photograph a collection, come prepared. Make sure your camera is in working order. Choose the right type of film. (Many people prefer color slides, because they can be printed in a variety of ways.) Bring a ruler or stick with standard markings. By including this ruler in photographs, you and others will be better able to determine scale. Be sure to take as many angles of an item as is necessary to understand it's construction.

Going Places: Historical and Archaeological Sites

Many sites of historic and/or archeological interest are preserved and maintained by the national, state, and local governments. Often these sites are administered as parks and offer interpretive programs and displays which can be a useful source of information. As always, take good notes and ask questions. Not only will the employees and managers of a site be good sources of information, but so will frequent visitors and site volunteers. Often a local historic or archeological club will be associated with a site. These groups have members whose interests may be similar to your own, and who are often willing to share their knowledge with others. As your own understanding of frontier and Native American history and culture grows, these sites could provide you with the opportunity to share and expand your own knowledge as a volunteer.

Is lunch at Pizza Hut still fieldwork?

The richest source of information you can find is someone willing to talk to you. The process of learning a new way of life from a culture which is different from one's own is called by anthropologists "ethnography". The process of visiting with people in order to do ethnography is called "field work". A person who acts as your teacher in your studies is known as an "informant". Field work can take place anywhere you can learn about another culture. It is important to note the differences between ethnography and other ways of learning about people. Newspaper reporters for instance do interviews just like ethnographers but, unlike the researcher, the reporter is simply asking questions in order to collect facts. Instead, ethnography is the learning of a culture the way a kid learns as he grows up. The importance here is that the reporter only asks the questions to which he thinks he needs an answer. The ethnographer begins by throwing out all the ideas he may have about a subject and begins learning from scratch. The person interviewed is a teacher and the researcher is a student. By working in this way you can learn not only the answers to your questions, but also things which you never even had thought to ask about. The goal in the end is to understand not just facts, but to understand how other people think.

Talking to people in this way is more time consuming, but is infinitely more profitable and rewarding. To be taught how to make a pair of moccasins in this way involves much more than cutting and stitching leather, it also includes all of the associations, stories and beliefs which making moccasins inspires in the teacher.

Pow-Wows and other events which attract Native Americans and which are open to the public are good places to meet and talk with them. How to best do ethnographic interviewing is a long topic, but here are a few hints and pointers. When first speaking with a potential informant, always act courteous and explain your interest. Allow them to do the talking and express your interest. Ask them to clarify points which you don't understand. Do not monopolize your informant's time. Express appreciation for what they share with you. Realize that an informant is sharing only his or her interpretation of their culture and that other members will have other views or beliefs. For instance if you were interested in studying American football fans, and asked your informant who the best team was, his or her answer would not be the same as that of someone else. Most importantly, always respect your informant's rights and wishes. A good introduction to this type of research is a book called The Ethnographic Interview by James Spradley.


This paper has only touched on a few of the methods you can use to learn more about the Native Americans of the Southeast or any other historical of cultural subject. The collection of arts and crafts, attending classes and seminars and a host of other sources of understanding await your discovery. It is my hope that the ideas presented here will help you get your research interests started faster and with less hassle. For me personally, researching the crafts, culture and history of the Native American is a rewarding experience and I hope you will find it an enriching endeavor.

Jason Baird Jackson
Gainesville, Florida
23 January 1991

Sources Mentioned

The Chronicles of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Historical Society, Norman, OK.

Green, Michael D. The Creeks: a critical bibliography. Bloomington: Indiana Unv. Press, 1979.

Howard, James Henri. Oklahoma Seminoles: medicines, magic and religion. Norman: Unv. of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

Kersey, Harry A. The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes: a critical bibliography. Bloomington: Indiana Unv. Press, 1987.

Spradley, James. The Ethnographic Interview. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.

Wright, J. Leitch. Creeks and Seminoles: the destruction and regeneration of the Muscogulge people. Lincoln: Unv. of Nebraska Press, 1986.


I would like to thank the Loxahatchee Historical Museum and the Hitchiti Dancers, Inc. for providing support for my research over the past two years. Thanks also go to Rick Obermeyer, Jay McGirt, Anthony J. La Greca and Claudine Payne for help in shaping my life as a aspiring researcher.

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Men's Clothing

Contributed by Rick Obermeyer E-mail:
From the book 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
© 1991-2000 Sherwood F. Obermeyer Jr., 2124 Miscindy Place, Orlando, FL 32806

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