Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Hersey, Mark D.

Committee Member

Hui, Alexaandra

Committee Member

Ridner, Judith A.

Committee Member

Messer, Peter

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

MSU Only Indefinitely

Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of History


This project argues that by examining how non-indigenous individuals such as American scientists and Euro-American explorers thought and formulated ideas about indigenous mounds proves that their construction of racial identities is inextricable from their understanding of the landscape. The mounds proved to be “mysterious” man-made features to non-indigenous people who interacted with these places in the decades and centuries after they were constructed. The mystery behind the mounds stemmed from a general lack of written record about the mounds, giving non-indigenous individuals a “free hand” to offer theories about their original purpose. Each chapter of this project examines a window in time, beginning with early European exploration and continuing through the twentyirst century, which reveals the changing role the mounds played in understanding North America’s indigenous past. This project builds upon theories of landscape history and intellectual environmental history, demonstrating that the mounds challenge preconceived notions about regional definitions and the Euro-centric divide between what is labeled North American “pre-history” and “history.” For example, mounds exist in the American South, but they also exist in places such as Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Additionally, the presence of large American Indian urban centers built around mound structures that rivaled European cities at the time, challenging Euro-centric definitions about North American “pre-history.” Although this project is not an indigenous history, it is important to recognize the significance of mound structures for American Indian people overtime. By unpacking some of the history of important sites such as the Nanih Waiya mound near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the Kituwah mound near Bryson City, North Carolina, this project acknowledges a long cultural connection to specific mound sites for some modern American Indian people. The fact that in 1996 the Eastern Band of Cherokee purchased the Kituwah mound, and in 2008 the state of Mississippi gave Nanih Waiya to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, dramatically alters the end of this story. Thus by tracing this story through the twentyirst century, this demonstrates the complexity of repatriation and contemporary issues of “who speaks for the tribe” remains, offering a different direction in which the story of American Indians is told.