Final Public Oral Exam: Keely Smith

Communicating Sovereignty: A History of the Mvskoke Language and Communication Networks, 1715–1880
Tuesday, July 16, 2024, 10:00 am12:00 pm


Event Description


Wendy Warren, co-adviser
Michael Blaakman, co-adviser
Elizabeth Ellis
Sarah Rivett
Alejandra Dubcovsky, Unviersity of California, Riverside


During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Muscogee people faced mounting dispossession as Euro-Americans surged into their southeastern homelands. But loss of land should not be confused with loss of sovereignty. By tracking Mvskoke language use over time, “Communicating Sovereignty” argues that Muscogee people used language to structure categories of belonging, family networks, and community identities, all of which manifested a Muscogee sovereignty that was incomprehensible to many Euro-Americans but nonetheless a source of stability in an evolving Muscogee world. This dissertation explores how the Mvskoke language brought diverse Native communities together under a single political umbrella to create what many historians call the “Creek Confederacy” of the eighteenth century. These networks of mutual obligations, bound by a shared language, contributed to the survival of Muscogee sovereignty through dispossession, political division, and forced removal in the nineteenth century. The project concludes in “Indian Territory,” where Muscogee people coopted missionary efforts to maintain Muscogee authority over Christianity, education, and literacy.

The research for this dissertation relies heavily on Mvskoke language sources. It draws from archival Mvskoke language materials, Euro-American letters and journals, linguistics, ethnohistory, and collaboration with present-day Muscogee community members to make sovereignty-affirming networks visible as the Mvskoke language evolved from a prestige language to a language of anti-colonial defiance. The project’s focus on the Mvskoke language and its speakers offers a new language-based framework for understanding Native sovereignty in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Lee Horinko Reed
Area of Interest
Cultural History
Indigenous History
Intellectual History
Native American
Scholarly Series
Dissertation Defense