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Visiting scholar to address Russian, Spanish colonialism

by Mark Schwerin

Oct. 12, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Dr. Kent G. Lightfoot.
KALAMAZOO--Russian and Spanish colonies in America will be explored during a talk this month when an award-wining anthropologist visits Western Michigan University.

Dr. Kent G. Lightfoot, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, in Room 1121 of Moore Hall. His presentation, titled "Russian and Spanish Colonialism Along the Pacific Coast of North America," is free and open to the public through the WMU Visiting Scholars and Artists Program.

Lightfoot will discuss his archaeological investigations of colonialism along the Pacific rim, drawing upon more than a decade of archaeological investigations. His talk will highlight some of the lessons learned from the study of Russian colonialism in Alaska, Hawaii and California.

Focusing on the Russian colony of Fort Ross in northern California, established by the Russian-American Company in 1812, details will be presented about how this mercantile enterprise operated, how the colony was organized and how the colonists and local Indians interacted with each other. The findings from the Russian colony will be compared to recent archaeological investigations that consider how native people were treated in nearby Spanish missions. Examples drawn from the work will be used to speak about comparative research, flexible research designs, low-intrusive field methods in collaborative programs, and the use of multiple lines of evidence.

Lightfoot earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology from Stanford University and his master's and doctoral degrees in anthropology from Arizona State University. He has conducted archaeological and ethnohistorical research throughout North America and is a well-recognized expert on Russian colonialism in the Pacific Northwest. He has directed investigations of native Californian, native Alaskan and Russian sites around historic Ross Colony for more than two decades. That work has resulted in numerous grants, honors and more than 100 publications. He is the recipient of the 2007 Society for Historical Archaeology James Deetz Award for his book, "Indians, Missionaries and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers."

Established in 1960, the Visiting Scholars and Artists Program significantly contributes to the intellectual life of WMU and the community. The program provides funds for academic units to bring distinguished scholars and artists to campus. These visitors meet with faculty and students in their fields and address the community at large.

Since the program began, it has supported more than 600 visits by scholars and artists representing more than 60 academic disciplines.

For more information on Lightfoot's visit, contact Dr. Michael Nassaney, WMU professor of anthropology, at (269) 387-3981 or