Elaine Marie Nelson, 2011 Mellon Fellow


Elaine Marie Nelson is moving into her new office at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where she is now an assistant professor of History.  She completed her Mellon Fellowship at the University of New Mexico in the spring and will be teaching three courses next fall in her new position. Nelson was a history major at UNM where she did research and writing on her dissertation, "Dreams and Dust in the Black Hills: Race, Place and National Identity in America's Land of Promise."

Her dissertation explores how the Black Hills tourism industry contributed to the struggles of the Lakota people during the twentieth century. But the story of the Lakotas does not end in despair, dispossession or annihilation. In the early 1900s, Lakota people began to defy the tourism industry. They participated in Black Hills pageants, parades, and other performances, but they used these opportunities to their advantage.

Lakotas turned the region's tourist attractions into platforms for asserting their rights to the Black Hills. These tribes had faced years of forced removal, colonization, disease, starvation, and the suppression of their cultural traditions and ceremonies. Despite all of this, they still found their voice through the venues of Black Hills tourism. Lakota participants in Black Hills tourism reshaped non-Indian opinions about the nature of their history, culture, and their relationship with the Black Hills. These actions remain crucial components of the story of the Lakota people, their enduring relationship with the Black Hills, and their struggle for self-determination.

Nelson says her Mellon Fellowship at UNM gave her the time and financial support to do her research and to travel to conferences to present her findings.  She also credits the fellowship with giving her an opportunity to talk and work with other scholars pursuing PhD's.  In particular, she mentions her Mellon mentor Ann Massmann who helped her stay focused through the complex research and writing needed for the dissertation.  Nelson is continuing to write and says she has had time to tear her work apart and reassemble it in a better form for publication.  She is also currently working on a book that is based on her Master's Degree work in Nebraska.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; e-mail: kwent2@unm.edu