“I don’t think we can understand how we got to where we are as a nation without an understanding of American Indian history.”
Early Life and Barnard
Alyssa Mt. Pleasant grew up in Syracuse, NY. She’s Tuscarora (one of the six Haudenosaunee nations) from her father’s side, and has had a vested interested in Indigenous issues from a young age. As Sarah Sweeney notes in a Radcliffe Magazine interview, Mt. Pleasant “was always cognizant of her hometown’s location within the traditional homelands of the Onondaga Nation.”
Mt. Pleasant came to Barnard in the mid 1990s for her undergraduate degree. During her time there, she was chair of the newly founded Native American Council. She helped raise awareness at Barnard about Native American history, culture, and presence at the school and across the country. She graduated in 1997 cum laude with a major in history.
Taking Charge in her Discipline
In an interview with Tanya H. Lee of Indian Country Today, Mt. Pleasant notes that while pursuing her interest in history and Native American and Indigenous studies, she:
“realized that one of the most productive ways I could address my frustrations regarding the absence of Native history courses and the shortage of Native perspectives in the classroom was by becoming a professor myself.”
So, after a brief time as a legal assistant, Mt. Pleasant went to get her PhD in History and Indian American Studies at Cornell University. She graduated in 2005 with her dissertation “After the Whirlwind: Maintaining a Haudenosaunee Place at Buffalo Creek, 1780-1825.” Mt. Pleasant’s PhD work allowed her to attain various professorships and fellowships in the following years, so that she could do the work of expanding and raising awareness around the fields of Native American and Indigenous studies in academia and beyond.
In an interview with Mary Annette Pember for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Mt. Pleasant comments on education around Indigenous histories in the United States:
“Our school system has done a disservice to American citizens by not sharing more information about American Indian history,” she says. “My challenge is to offer them a basic understanding of the contours of that history.”
Mt. Pleasant has accepted that challenge and taken it even further. One year after she graduated from Cornell (during that year she was a Post-Graduate Associate at the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders), she started to help build up the Native American Studies program at Yale as an Assistant Professor in the American Studies Program of the History Department. In addition to her pedagogical work at Yale, Mt. Pleasant was a Research Associate at the The McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and published two papers: “Indians Playing Lacrosse on Ice” (2008) and “Debating Missionary Presence at Buffalo Creek: Haudenosaunee Perspectives on land cessions, government relations, and Christianity” (2008).
Mt. Pleasant left Yale for her current position as an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), where she coordinates the Haudenosaunee-Native American Studies Research Group within the University at Buffalo’s Humanities Institute. In 2015-2016, she was selected to be a Research Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, where she participated in their Initiative on Native and Indigenous Peoples. During her time at the University at Buffalo, Mt. Pleasant has published numerous papers, including her most recent “Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies: Completing the Turn,” with Caroline Wigginton and Kelly Wisecup, and “Emotional Labor and Precarity in Native American and Indigenous Studies.” For a more complete list of publications, check out her page on the University at Buffalo’s website.
She has also acted as a council member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, where, among other roles and responsibilities, she co-chaired the 2012 NAISA conference.
Mt. Pleasant continues to present her research at scholarly conferences and talks around the country, and she helps museums by using her expertise to consult on their exhibits. She is revising her manuscript “After the Whirlwind: Haudenosaunee People and the Emergence of U.S. Settler-coloniailsm, 1780-1825,” and continues to teach, conduct research, and write. Her primary focus is on Haudenosaunee history during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but expands beyond that into early American history, settler colonialism, public history, and more. You can keep up to date on her work by following her on Twitter @BettyRbl! Be sure to check out her #roadsidemarker series.
Honors and Awards
While at Cornell, Mt. Pleasant received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Cunningham Fellowship, the David L. Call Achievement Award, the Maisel Research Grant, the Gilmore Fellowship, and the Frances Allen Fellowship.
During her time at Yale, she received the Association of Native Americans at Yale Community Award, Morse Faculty Fellowship, and the School for Advanced Research Short Seminar.
Since she’s taken a position as an Assistant Professor at the University at Buffalo, Mt. Pleasant has received the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship, Harvard University; a Grant-in-aid from Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Culture (an SSHRC Partnership Development Grant) to participate in “Negotiating Schooling and Literacies in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, 1750-1900” research group; a Grant-in-aid from Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia to participate in International Research Seminar “Smiling to their Faces: Race, Emotional Labour, and the University,”; and a Grant-in-aid from Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University to participate in Accelerator Workshop “Structural Tenderness: Race, Emotional Labour, and the University.”
-Sarah Barlow-Ochshorn ’20
Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, et al. “Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies: Completing the Turn.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 2, 2018, pp. 207–236. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5309/willmaryquar.75.2.0207. Accessed 9 April 2020.
“Alyssa Mt. Pleasant.” Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Harvard University. https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/people/alyssa-mt-pleasant. Accessed 15 April 2020.
“Alyssa Mt. Pleasant.” University at Buffalo Department of Transnational Studies. https://arts-sciences.buffalo.edu/transnational-studies/faculty/faculty-directory.host.html/content/shared/arts-sciences/transnational-studies/faculty-staff/faculty-profiles/mt-pleasant-alyssa.html. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Barnard College. Mortarboard. New York, NY: 1996. Barnard College Archives. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/bc:yearbook-1996#page/210/mode/2up. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Barnard College. Mortarboard. New York, NY: 1997. Barnard College Archives. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/bc:yearbook-1997#page/98/mode/2up. Accessed 15 April 2020.
Costantini, Cristina. “Why Some Native Americans Can Laugh About Thanksgiving.” ABC News. 21 November 2012 .https://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/native-americans-laugh-thanksgiving/story?id=17780374. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Lee, Tanya H. “5 More Native Women Who Know Their History.” Indian Country Today 30 March 2016. https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news/in-news/5-more-native-women-who-know-their-history. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Mt. Pleasant, Alyssa. “Emotional Labor and Precarity in Native American and Indigenous Studies.” English Language Notes, vol. 54 no. 2, 2016, p. 175-181. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/711452. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Mt. Pleasant, Alyssa. “Alyssa Mt. Pleasant.” Linkedin. https://www.linkedin.com/in/alyssamtpleasant/. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Pember, Mary Annette. “Getting to Know: Alyssa Mt. Pleasant.” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. 29 November 2007. https://diverseeducation.com/article/10288/. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Staab, Deborah M. “Class Notes.” Barnard: Spring 2005: 32-63. Barnard College Archives. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/BC11-08:15540#page/62/mode/2up. Accessed 9 April 2020.
Sweeney, Sarah. “On the Trail of the Haudenosaunee: RADCLIFFE FELLOW ALYSSA MT. PLEASANT IS UNCOVERING THE HISTORY OF BUFFALO CREEK.” Radcliffe Magazine. Summer 2016. https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news/radcliffe-magazine/trail-haudenosaunee. Accessed 15 April 2020.