In May of 2014, the School of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee and Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania approved a new inter-disciplinary Minor in the field of Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS). Minors at Penn are intended to: enable students to develop knowledges and skills that can complement their major; pursue additional fields of in-depth study beyond the major; express themselves in a different discipline; explore an emerging intellectual field; gain experience in applying specific methods and theories; and/or learn about particular ethnicities, cultures, and heritages.
Students interested in pursuing the NAIS Minor can follow the links on this page for more information.
To download a pdf file with past and present NAIS course descriptions, see:
NAIS New Course Descriptions 2022-23.pdf
To register for the NAIS Minor, contact the NAIS Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on other Minors available for study at Penn, see: List of Minors
Overview of NAIS Courses
The University of Pennsylvania currently offers about 30 courses with Native American and Indigenous content across 7 different departments. Several of these courses include dense content focusing almost exclusively on Native American and First Nations peoples in North America. Other courses offer sections focusing on Indigenous peoples and issues in diverse worldwide locales, from diverse disciplinary perspectives.
Some NAIS courses are cross-listed or can be applied towards other requirements of the College. Examples include: Ethnohistory of the Native Northeast (History and Anthropology); Performing Culture (Cultural Diversity); Facing America (Art and History); and Public Policy, Museums, and the Ethics of Cultural Heritage (Anthropology and History). Other NAIS courses offer foundational knowledge that is central to a particular discipline, but can also be very useful across disciplines. Examples include: Indigenous Language and Language Revitalization (Education); and Language in Native America (Linguistics). Several new NAIS courses are currently in development; please check back for more information.
Note: The NAIS roster of courses is in a period of transition, since some faculty have retired and some courses are temporarily unavailable. In the interim, we encourage interested students to take other related courses, which can be accommodated as substitutions (contact the NAIS Coordinator with any questions). Here are some course that can be applied to the NAIS Minor for Spring 2023:
Spring 2023 NAIS-Related Courses:
Anthropology 2308: Ethnohistory of the Native Northeast
Dr. Margaret Bruchac Tuesday & Thursday 3:30 – 4:59 pm
Ethnohistorical research, by definition, incorporates ethnographic study and documentary research from both anthropological and historical perspectives. This approach emerged during the mid-20th century as a means to authoritatively document and mediate Native American land claims and federal recognition cases. This course will focus on representations of Native American people in Philadelphia and the greater northeast, on memorial statuary designed to shape public memory, and on the resonance of colonial encounters in public understandings of Indigenous people today. Topics include: the foundations of ethnohistory as a discipline; Indigenous oral traditions and wampum diplomacy; historical contexts of monument-building; and decolonizing methods to illuminate the shifting dynamics of gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, and conflict. We will engage in critical interrogations of information preserved in documents, material objects, historical monuments, photographs, news articles, archives, and museum collections. Students will develop skills and strategies for interpreting primary and secondary sources, and for better understanding and contextualizing the social, political, and cultural conflicts recorded and communicated in colonial records, historical monuments, and popular memories.
Anthropology 3110: Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies
Dr. Kristina Lyons & Dr. Marilyn Howarth Tuesday 10:15 am – 1:14 pm
Responses to contemporary environmental dilemmas require the collaborative work of not only diverse scientists, medical practitioners, and engineers, but also more expansive publics, including artists, urban and rural communities, social scientists, and legal fields. Environmental challenges, and their health, justice, and knowledge production implications, are inherently social concerns. The class will work across disciplinary boundaries, building collaborative affinities, and negotiating frictions between diverse methodologies and epistemological approaches. Dr. Lyons brings years of experience collaborating with scientists, small farmers, Indigenous communities, lawyers, and judges in Colombia and Chile on watershed restoration projects, soil degradation, toxicity, and the implementation of socio-ecological justice. Dr. Howarth is a medical doctor from the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology of the School of Medicine and has experience engaging the public, legislators and regulators around environmental health issues affecting the quality of air, water, soil and consumer products. They will engage students in discussions and research regarding issues of urban air pollution, soil remediation, deforestation, and water contamination, among other environmental health problems. This class offers a unique opportunity for students from engineering, natural and social sciences, humanities, and the arts to converse and collaborate around pressing socio-environmental and public health issues.
History 1450: Indigenous Latin America 1400-1800
Dr. Marcia Norton Monday & Wednesday 12 – 1:29 pm
In 1492 Europeans began to colonize the Americas. Many colonizers sought to dispossess Indigenous people of their labor, land, and, sometimes, their lives, and often tried to impose their religion and cultural practices. Nonetheless, throughout Latin America Indigenous communities not only survived but adapted in creative, vigorous ways to the new social and ecological circumstances. In this course we will look at the diverse ways that Indigenous individuals and collectives avoided or adapted to colonial rule in Latin America between 1492 and 1800. We will particularly focus on Arawakan, Carib, Tupinamba, Nahua, and Andean histories. Readings will include both primary and secondary sources.
History 2403: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral : Culture, Tech, & Columbian Exchange, 1450-1750
Dr. Marcia Norton Tuesday 1:45 – 4:44 pm
In this course we will explore how Native American technologies shaped the early modern Atlantic World in order to understand the role of culture in what is often called the "Columbian Exchange.” Technologies, for the purpose of this course, include animal practices (such as hunting and taming techniques), foraged and domesticated plants (such as maize, potatoes, and annatto), foods (such as cassava and chocolate), drugs (such as tobacco, quinine and coca), textiles (such as hammocks and featherworks), and precious metals and gemstones (such as pearls, emeralds and gold). We will explore technologies' relationships to other aspects of art and culture, and focus particularly on how and why certain technologies - and not others - moved beyond colonial Latin America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will read intensively in both primary and secondary sources.
Latin American Studies 2978: Just Futures Seminar II: Health and Healing in Abiayala (the Americas)
Dr. Lucia Stavig Tuesday & Thursday 1:45 – 3:14 pm
This course will introduce students to ecosocial notions of health, colonialism, and decolonial action. Part one introduces general concepts of body, health, and illness in biomedical models, before pivoting to relational and ecosocial practices highlighting “radical relationality.” For many First Peoples, community includes humans, plants, animals, ancestors, and earth beings (including land, mountains, rivers, and lakes) that are materially, socially, and spiritually interdependent in a “shared body” through practices of reciprocal care. Part two of the course examines how this shared body has been and is threatened by the colonization of Indigenous lands and bodies through (e.g.) land dispossession, pollution, extractive industry, lack of access to quality education and medical care, exploitative economic relations, and political violence. Part three will focus on healing through decolonial action, (e.g.) Land Back movements, resisting extractive industry, and reproductive justice. Questions addressed in this class include, where does the body begin and end? What constitutes personhood? How does continued colonization affected indigenous peoples’ health—and that of all peoples? How do indigenous peoples use ancestral knowledges, relation ethics, and local ecologies to help heal historic and contemporary wounds to power their futures?
Anthropology 3595: Ecologies of Belonging
Dr. Rachel Cypher Wednesday 1:45 – 4:44 pm
Every landscape enacts belonging and exclusion. A straight line of Northern Sentinel Locust trees, the concrete channeling of Delaware river tributaries, a Great Lawn of bermudagrass, all are ecologies that include some and exclude others, both human and nonhuman. This class will seek to trouble, expose, and explore the histories and the makings of “commonsense ecologies” – the places and landscapes in which we lead our daily lives unquestioningly. Our general aim will be to discover and create theoretical, empirical, and conceptual tools for understanding the uneven conditions of livability within the Anthropocene and the Anthropos-Not-Seen. We will combine weekly field observations with topical readings to interrogate commonsense ecologies all around us, training a critical, descriptive, and collaborative eye on industrial forms, absences, disease ecologies, Indigenous and Black histories and presences, settler colonialism, resurgence, and patchiness. Keeping a “Field” notebook will be integral to the ways in which we will attempt to see the way theories bubble up from the empirical. As our final project, we will create a digital and publicly available “Living Landscape Archive” documenting commonsense ecologies throughout Penn’s campus and the greater Philadelphia area.
Education 5232: Indigenous Education & Language Revitalization
Dr. Robert Moore Tuesday 5:00 – 6:59 pm
The course examines Indigenous education and language revitalization from an international perspective, considering questions like: What policies, ideologies, and discourses shape the history of Indigenous education? What roles do pan-Indigenous and international organizations play? What does decolonizing and Indigenizing schooling look like? How do Indigenous epistemologies, ways of knowing, being and relating influence education? What does culturally relevant schooling mean in Indigenous contexts? What are the roles of Indigenous communities in language revitalization and educational processes?
Political Science 5991: Critical Theory: Indigeneity in North America
Dr. Anne Norton Tuesday 10:15 am – 1:14 pm
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