OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Margaret Jacobs

Portrait of Margaret Jacobs

Margaret Jacobs is the Chancellor's Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She held a Carnegie Corporation of New York fellowship from 2018-2020 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019. In 2015-16 she served as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University. Her research and teaching focuses on women, gender, indigenous peoples, and colonialism in the American West and other settler colonial contexts. She has published over a dozen articles and two award-winning books, Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879-1934 (1999) and White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940 (2009), which won the Bancroft Prize. Most recently, she is the author of A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World (2014), which examines why indigenous children came to be over-represented in the child welfare systems of the United States, Australia, and Canada, and how indigenous women activists mobilized to confront this crisis. She has launched a new digital history project on the Genoa Indian Boarding School in Genoa, Nebraska and cofounded a new multimedia project called Reconciliation Rising. She is also writing a new book about history, truth, and reconciliation in relation to indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture examines recent fraught efforts to acknowledge the painful history of Indigenous child removal and to promote reconciliation in Australia, Canada, and the United States. From 2009 to 2015 the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathered testimony from Indigenous people who as small children had suffered separation from their families, often forcibly, to attend Indian residential schools. In the 1990s, during its Decade of Reconciliation, Australia launched an Inquiry into the “Stolen Generations,” Aboriginal children who had experienced a similar forcible removal from their families. The United States has its own Stolen Generations, but there is little public awareness of them, let alone official inquiries or truth and reconciliation commissions. This lecture contemplates why the U.S. has willfully forgotten its history of Indigenous child removal while Australia and Canada have engaged in collective remembrance of these historical practices.
In the second half of the twentieth century, an estimated 25 to 35% of American Indian children were living apart from their families, and they were vastly over-represented in state child welfare systems. To explain this Indian child welfare crisis, government authorities claimed that Indian children were "forgotten" children, and they promoted their fostering and adoption by non-Indian families. By contrast, Indian families and their advocates charged that many social workers were using ethnocentric and middle-class criteria to unnecessarily remove Indian children from their families and communities. Through creating their own child welfare organizations and legal codes, as well as working for the Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian activists and their allies sought to bring Indian child welfare under the control of Indian nations. This presentation examines the debate that ensued over Indian children in the 1960s and 70s and that continues even up to the present in the recent Supreme Court case involving Baby Veronica.
This lecture follows the transnational trails of two Indigenous women activists from the United States and Australia as they discovered the ubiquity of Indigenous child removal in their nations as well as Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. By tracking their movements over national borders and across oceans, this paper demonstrates the crucial role that these and other women activists played in Indigenous movements for self-determination in the late twentieth century.
In the late nineteenth century, the United States government developed a new strategy for dealing with American Indian people. Instead of isolating them on reservations and battling those who refused to comply, now the government established a system of boarding schools for Indian children. At nearly the same time, Australian state governments embarked on a similar policy for Aboriginal children. Officials and reformers in both countries touted their efforts as compassionate policies designed to give these children greater opportunities, but they often resorted to brutal methods to remove indigenous children from their families. This lecture examines the origins, consequences, and legacies of Indigenous child removal in these two nations.
This lecture examines how institutions for Indigenous children in both the United States and Australia aimed to sever the connections between the children and their homelands through replacing the children’s prior sensory conceptions of season and place with new sensory regimes founded on abstract notions of time and space.
In the late nineteenth century, the U.S. government and Australian state administrations adopted a new strategy for managing their Indigenous populations: removing Indigenous children and sending them to schools and other institutions. White women became key figures in carrying out these policies. Officials touted their efforts as a compassionate departure from the violence of the past, but they often used brute force to remove children, and their policies still served the settler colonial aim of eliminating Indigenous people.