Classroom Activities

1. Apess the historian. Apess makes it clear in the Eulogy that he knows a lot about European American histories of the colonial period. Indeed, he must do so, because his principal purpose in composing the Eulogy is to contest the dominant version of American history contained in those accounts. It has been suggested, however, that displaying his knowledge also has the advantage of enhancing his “ethos,” to use a technical term from classical rhetoric that refers to the way the audience’s perception of a speaker’s character influences how they accept his or her words.

Discuss whether Apess’s display of knowledge actually does enhance his ethos for you as his audience. Do you think a person must be familiar with the sources he cites in order to be favorably impressed? Do you think a person must be an American in order to be favorably impressed? Do you think that listeners or readers would react differently to this particular aspect of Apess’s ethos depending upon their own ethnic or cultural identifications?

2. Apess the underdog. Arguably, Apess was doing a very brave thing to get up in front of a largely White New England audience and eulogize King Philip. Not only could he expect that his audience would have no love for Philip, but he could also expect that his own Indian appearance and self-taught rhetorical style might alienate them. In other words, Apess had to know that he would be facing a hostile audience, who would not want to hear what he had to say and who would be predisposed not to respect his opinions, simply based on his racial appearance. What do you see Apess doing in his eulogy specifically to try to communicate with this hostile audience? Does he defy them? Does he try to flatter and win them over? And do you think his strategies would have been likely to be effective in his own day? How about with you as a contemporary audience? Be prepared to explain your answers.

3. “Playing Indian.” Louisa Jane Park’s comments make clear that almost inevitably, Apess’s audience would see him primarily as an Indian–not, for example, as a minister of God or as a political activist. Her comments also make clear that for some audience members, the more he fit their stereotype of what an “Indian” should be, the better they would like his presentation. Discuss whether you think Apess plays up his Indian identity in any way in this address, and discuss whether you think he is effective when/if he does so. Are there ethical issues involved–that is, would it be morally reprehensible for him to pretend to be more like the stereotype than he actually is, in order to reach his audience? You might also discuss whether you have had any experiences where you were expected to behave as a member of a particular group–what did you do? How did you feel? Be prepared to discuss and compare your responses.

 4. King Philip, hero. Discuss whether you think Apess succeeds in making King Philip into an admirable leader who deserves a larger place in American history. What seem to be the criteria for heroic leadership that he is using? Do you agree with them?

Student Research 

1. Apess the historian, the underdog, the “pretend” Indian, the hero-maker. Write a reflective paper in which you argue for your own views about Apess and his rhetoric in relation to any of the questions discussed in the “Classroom Activities” section. When possible, compare and contrast with your own experience.

2. What is a eulogy? Write a paper in which you define the rhetorical genre of the eulogy. What are its typical components? What makes a good eulogy? You may illustrate your paper with examples of other eulogies you know about, either from your personal experience or from the historical record of famous eulogies (e.g., Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” can be considered to be a eulogy).

3. Evaluation of Apess’s Eulogy. Analyze Apess’s Eulogy as a eulogy: in what ways is it typical, or not typical, of the genre? Should it be considered to be a good example of a eulogy?

4. “Eulogy on ——.” Identify a person whom you believe deserves recognition for outstanding good qualities, and write a eulogy honoring him or her. Options: choose a historical personage who has been slighted, quote some of the works that do not do him or her justice, and refute them as Apess does with the sources on King Philip. Or, choose someone you know personally, a family member, teacher, community leader, etc., and explain why you think this person deserves honor (for purposes of this assignment, you might compose a eulogy for someone who is still alive). Or, you might choose any of these possible subjects, and instead of playing it straight, exaggerate your praise of the person to the point that you make it clear that you believe that in fact, he or she deserves opprobrium, not honor.

5. Indian Historical Contexts for the Eulogy. Learning more about the complex Indian historical contexts of Apess’s work could become a class research project. Teams of several students could research and report on each of the following topics that provide more information about American Indian-European American relations from the time of the first extensive settlements of English people in New England in the early seventeenth century up to the early nineteenth century of Apess’s day. Some of these topics call for a more in-depth look at historical events and some offer examples of European American literary treatments of Indians.

The topics are:

  • American Indian religion in New England before European contact
  •  the Pequot War
  • Philip’s War
  • French and Indian War
  • Reverend John Eliot and the “Praying Indian” towns
  • Franklin’s “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America”
  • Cherokee battle to retain their lands in Georgia in the early nineteenth
  • Washington Irving’s “Philip of Pokanoket”
  • Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok
  • Other essays and stories about Indians by Lydia Maria Child
  • James Fenimore Cooper’s The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish
  • Lydia Sigourney’s Hope Leslie

6. An American literature course. An entire course could be created in which the class reads the literary works listed above, along with the Eulogy and other early nineteenth-century works, perhaps on Indians or perhaps on slavery and relations among European Americans, African Americans, and other peoples of color (such as Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno). In that case, the class research-and-report project would be limited to the historical topics listed above, perhaps supplemented by reports on the authors listed, but not their works (which would be read and studied by all).

7. Boston, 1830. How many people lived there, and what were their ethnic and cultural backgrounds? What was the actual physical lay-out of the city? What were the major industries and trades? How did people obtain–and what people obtained–education, from the elementary to the college level? What religious faiths and denominations were present? Who were the leaders of the abolition movement in the area? What other social movements were important? What were the functions of oratory as public entertainment, and who were some of the other speakers heard at that time? Teams of students could take each of these questions–and others that may suggest themselves–and collectively prepare a portrait of the civic arena in which Apess acted; then, assemble the information into a website.

8. Colonial New England: Apess and his sources. The Eulogy on King Philip would work very well in an American literature course in which European American accounts of the English settlement of New England were also studied. A list of books that could be used in such a course is given here; some of these authors are actually cited by Apess and others provide additional contemporary accounts of the history he examines. This list could form a course reading list, or, in order to provide in-depth background for the study of the Eulogy, teams of several students could take each title, and read, research and report about

  • Bradford, William. History of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647. Samuel Eliot Morison, editor. New York: Knopf, 1952.
  • Church, Benjamin, “As Told To His Son Thomas Church.” Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip’s War. 1716; reprinted in So Dreadfull a Judgment: Puritan Responses to King Philip’s War, 1676-1677. Richard Slotkin and James Folsom, editors. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1978.
  • Easton, John. “A Relation of the Indian War.” 1675; reprinted in Narratives of the Indian Wars, 1675-1699. Charles H. Lincoln, editor. 1913; reprinted New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966.
  • Gardiner, Lion. “Leift. Lion Gardener His Relation of the Pequot Warres.” C. 1660; reprinted in History of the Pequot War. Charles Orr, editor. 1897; reprinted New York: AMS, 1980.
  • Gookin, Daniel. An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England, in the Years 1675, 1676, 1677. 1677; reprinted New York: Arno Press, 1972.
  • Mather, Increase. A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England. 1676; reprinted in So Dreadfull a Judgment (see Church entry above).        
  • Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. 1682; reprinted in Puritans Among the Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724. Alden Vaughan and Edward W. Clark, eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press/Belknap Press, 1981. 
  • Underhill, John. Newes from America. 1638; reprinted in Orr, History of the Pequot War (see Gardiner entry above).
  • Vaughan, Alden. New England Frontier: 1620-1675. 2d. edition. New York: Norton, 1979 (contains a number of interesting short documents).

9. American Methodism: Apess became a Christian in what was then the fastest-growing denomination in the United States. Student research paper assignments could examine some of the following topics: What were the origins of Methodism in 18th-century Great Britain? How did Methodism come to the United States, and who were its important early leaders? What was the impact of Methodism in American Indian communities? In African American communities? In what ways was Methodism important to Apess in particular, and why did he eventually abandon that denomination? Such topics could be part of a course unit on American religions of the early nineteenth century, in which other denominations and faiths would also be explored.

10. American Indians Were Here. Wherever Apess’s Eulogy is being studied in the United States, American Indians used to live in the area. Find out about how the Indians lived in your area before contact with Europeans and other immigrant groups. Also, find out about what happened in the first years after contact. These might be individual research paper topics, or a class research project with small groups taking different topics, researching and reporting on them. Assembling a website with all this information would be an excellent concluding activity (please note that it is quite possible that websites already exist with some of the information you are seeking, some maintained by the tribes themselves). See also the “American Indians Are Here” topic under “Citizenship Resources.”

Citizenship Resources 

1. American Indians Are Here. Students, wherever you live in the United States, there are probably American Indians living nearby. Find out everything you can about them, share this information in class, and if possible, invite local Indian leaders to speak to your class and travel to sites significant to them. This project would work well with the “American Indians Were Here” topic suggested under “Student Research,” which should probably be done first. (Please note that it is quite possible that websites already exist with some of the information you are seeking, some maintained by the tribes themselves).

2. What makes a tribe a tribe? Students, find out about the legal criteria by which the U.S. government defines an Indian group as a tribe worthy of official recognition. Discuss in class whether you think these requirements are reasonable or not. Discuss whether they would be useful to define other ethnic/cultural groups of which you are aware or to which you belong. It might be useful to connect this discussion with research papers on the quest for Federal recognition by particular tribes, such as the Mashpees, the Mashantucket Pequots, a group that lives in your area, etc.

3. Indian Sovereignty. Find out about the legal rights of recognized Indian tribes. To what extent or in what ways are they considered to be sovereign nations? What are the legal ramifications of their status? Some topics to explore might be the sale of alcohol, tobacco and firearms on Indian land, Indian gaming (pro’s and con’s for both the tribe and the customers).

4. Museums as Civic Discourse. What is a museum? It might be defined as an institution for the preservation and display of valuable things, so that people can learn about them and perhaps enjoy them. One example is an art museum: works of art that are considered to be excellent are preserved; people can see them, learn about them, enjoy them. Another example is a museum at a famous battlefield: it preserves artifacts of the battle and other sources of information about the battle, so that people can, if not exactly enjoy learning about an event that entailed much loss of life, at least gain some satisfaction from becoming better informed.

By the time that a museum is created, crucial decisions have been made about the criteria for constituting what is valuable. In other words, such criteria must attend to such as issues as what works of art belong in a museum? What battlefields deserve commemoration? By making these decisions, and enacting them in the form of public institutions, a society is making a statement about what is important to it. Certain common values are affirmed by the creation of a museum: in that sense, a museum can be considered a form of public discourse.

Not uncommonly, some of these decisions can be controversial. For example, some may wish to commemorate the struggles of the Southern states during the Civil War with a museum of the Confederacy, and others may condemn such a plan because honoring the Confederacy will seem to them like putting a positive value on slavery and racism.

Given this context, consider the National Museum of the American Indian, on the
National Mall in Washington D.C. (its informative website can be found at www.nmai.si.edu). Find out as much as you can about what its exhibits and activities are. If possible, visit it. Based on this information, discuss: what are the purposes of this museum? In what ways do you see this museum responding to North American Indian history? As far as you can tell, is the museum effective in accomplishing its purposes? What does it contribute to civic discourse on relations among the various American Indian tribes, and between Indians and other Americans? How does its location contribute to responses to these questions? In addition to discussing these questions, write a reflective paper in which you give your opinions about them.

5. Museum Visitation. Visit a museum near you and respond to the same kinds of questions about it: what are its purposes? How effective is it in accomplishing these purposes? What sort of message does it send about the society that created it? What are its contributions to the civic discourse of your region?

6. “The Judgment of History.” Eventually, people come to realize that a leader has been so important to their country that he or she deserves great public honor. Thus, for example, we have the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Few would now wish to argue that Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were not important leaders. Questions arise, however, when the leader under consideration lived relatively recently, so that the judgment of history–that is, the valuations of the person’s career that accumulate over time–has not yet been rendered. You may be aware that such questions had been raised about how–or whether–to honor the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. States debated whether to make his birthday into a legal holiday, and controversy surrounded the decision to go ahead with a memorial to him that would also be placed on the National Mall. Find out as much as you can about these controversies, discuss your own positions on the matter, and write a reflective paper expressing your views. (For information on the King memorial, go to http://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm.)

Last updated March 21, 2016