Ertegun Staff and Scholar Profiles

Lauren Ballard

Nationality: 
American
Current course: 
MSt in English (English and American Studies)

When I was very young the bus that shuttled me back and forth to school every day passed by a Pomo Indian Reservation. I remember the first time when riding through those dry oak forests I saw a totem pole jutting up through the tree line. Later I asked my mother why we didn't live on a reservation. She didn't have the knowledge then to explain to me the difference between blood-quantum and tribal roll membership or that her grandmother leaving the reservation had coincided with a political program of mass (often forced) assimilation. Throughout my life I remained interested in Native America, but could find no useful framework to approach this interest that wasn't awash in stereotypes and white commodification.

Another thing I was interested in was literature. I liked stories first and foremost, but what I liked about stories was the different worlds they allowed you to inhabit. As I grew up I found that even more interesting than wholly imaginative worlds was the ability to access real worlds, either that had been or that existed elsewhere. Interested in being exposed to different ways of thinking and ordering life, nearly fresh out of high school I traveled to Cuba, precisely because (under the Bush administration of that time) I wasn't allowed to go, and I wanted to know what it was I wasn't supposed to see.

After a few years I transferred to UC Berkeley where I was introduced to a view on Native American studies that I had never encountered before. With Kathleen Donegan as my advisor I studied how Native tribes in the Northeast of America held geopolitical positions of power and influence on par with the rivaling French, English and Dutch nations and peoples. We looked at writings from the period of early contact as the English often blundered about trying to explain the people and customs they observed from their own understanding of the world. And as European and Native peoples began to live, trade, and fight with each other over multiple generations we saw how fluid or how polarizing the boundaries of culture could be in 170 years between colonization and nationalization.

I graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley in 2012 and spent the next four years traveling and working in Education. I attended the National Indigenous Conference in the Zapatista territory in Southern Mexico shortly after the assassination of the prominent school teacher, Galeano. I taught English language to students in Thailand and China, and back in California I worked as a substitute teacher for all subjects and grade levels and as a freshman year English teacher. I liked teaching, but struggled with the working and learning environment of state institutions. Thus I came to the question, how did other cultural worlds and peoples approach the task of education and of raising children into adulthood? Continuing my interest in Early American cultural contact and exchange, I came to Oxford to study North Eastern Native American conceptions of childhood and childrearing as seen through the (deeply biased but still richly informative) lens of European writers and their own European conceptions of childhood.

It is a large project to try to bite off in one year, but I'll go as far as I can. When I return home to the States I hope to resume teaching and work with progressive institutions that are approaching education in new ways. My partner and I have a dream of one day being able to start our own school.