Native Americans, which comprise approximately one percent of today’s total U.S. population, are often not in the conversation when considering the demographics of the country. An ongoing exhibit in the O’Neill 3rd Floor Reading Room entitled “Baseball’s League of Nations: A Tribute to Native American Baseball Players,” however, hopes to shed light on the Native American community, and its place in the nation’s cultural history.
This exhibit illuminates the long and tumultuous history of Native American involvement in the classic American pastime of baseball. Vastly predating the integration of African-Americans into Major League Baseball, the presence of Native Americans in the sport has long been felt and continues even to this day with prolific players such as Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellisbury, members of the Winnebago and Navajo tribes, respectively.
The exhibit, brought to Boston College with the backing of the BC chapter of SNAP and the Sociology department, was previously on display at the Iroquois Indian Museum and will be on display in the O’Neill Reading Room until Friday, March 20.
This exhibit, made possible in a joint production sponsored by the Institute of Liberal Arts, the BC Department of Sociology, the Society of Native American Peoples (SNAP), the BC Libraries, and the Iroquois Indian Museum of Howes Cave, N.Y., offers a look at the often overlooked role of Native Americans in the history of the sport.
Among the many who assisted in organizing the exhibit, professor of sociology Michael Malec explained that he feels the exhibit does well to shed a little light on an unfamiliar subject, and that visiting exhibits such as these and others on campus can make for a learning experience.
“The thing I love about these exhibits, is that whether I personally appreciate the genre, the style, the type of art that is on display, is that I really learn something,” he said. “At the McMullen Museum, for example, you’re going to learn something about ‘Roman in The Provinces.’ It’s the exact same thing with this exhibit.”
The exhibit consists of several posters that detail a range of information about Native Americans and baseball, with topics such as their involvement in Major League Baseball to the struggles with which they were confronted in the public eye. Malec hopes that these informational banners and pieces of memorabilia on display will catch the attention of and engage passersby, turning into an informative learning experience.
“I hope that people who would stop and look or take 10 minutes to read the information will learn something about the place of Native Americans in the history of American Baseball, and just use that to help them appreciate a bit more the cultural, ethnic, richness of baseball, and extending beyond that the richness of American society as a whole,” he said.
Malec, whose main area of research is in the sociology of sport, added that learning about Native American history through the lens of sport is an unusual yet particularly effective way to approach the subject, maintaining that baseball serves as a great vehicle to the public for this particular lesson in history.
“Baseball will appeal to a lot of people who otherwise might not be terribly interested in stepping inside a museum,” he said.
Featured Image by Danielle Fasciano / Heights Staff