#SeniorSeminar: Elizabeth Richardson & “From Playing Indian to Playing Seminole: How Florida State University’s Usage of Native Imagery Changed from Appropriation to Representation”

Thu, 06/29/23
#SeniorSeminar: Elizabeth Richardson & “From Playing Indian to Playing Seminole: How Florida State University’s Usage of Native Imagery Changed from Appropriation to Representation”

I grew up about an hour and a half away from Tallahassee yet never considered Florida State as a possibility for my undergraduate. Truth is, I was raised as a Gator, and although I will still cheer for the Orange and Blue every chance I get, I chose to attend FSU over UF simply because of its History Department. I was set to study sports management at UF in the fall of 2020, but during that summer, I found myself drawn to history books. This was not rare for me as I spent my childhood fascinated by this subject. From American Girl dolls to trips to museums, and early history classes, my love for history grew as I did. Although there was a part of me that was sure I would study History in college, it did not become apparent until right before I was to begin at UF.

My study of history during that summer prompted me to switch my major at UF to history, pushing my start date to the spring of 2021. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the website of FSU’s History Department, and to my surprise, I discovered I loved the course list and structure of the major. I then chose to attend Florida State as I knew my time as a history major would be the most fulfilled in Tallahassee. I have yet to be proven wrong as my experience has gone beyond my expectations.

Why did you choose this senior seminar class?

I had taken Dr. Andrew Frank’s History of Florida course over the summer and found that I enjoyed his material and teaching style, thus making “FSU and the Seminole Tribe” an easy choice for my seminar. Being raised a Gator, I knew only a little about Florida State’s traditions and nothing about FSU’s real connection to the Seminole tribe. This course provided me with mountains of information regarding FSU’s history, becoming my favorite undergrad course, and as it pains me to say, has transformed me into a true Seminole fan more so than my previous years at FSU combined.

What is your project about?

My project provides an in-depth analysis of the Native American imagery utilized by Florida State from the time they chose the Seminoles as their icon in 1947 to the symbolism employed by the university today. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the imagery, chants, decorations, and advertisements supported by the university were generic and stereotypical of Native Americans, and not representative of the Seminole Indians of Florida. More specifically, these depictions were of Plains Indians and included tipis, feathered headdresses, smoke signals, and ‘scalp um’ banners. At that time, there was much less awareness of the distinctions between different Native American tribes, or the importance of representing the Seminoles specifically.

The ‘70s and ‘80s see a momentous change with the retirement of Sammy Seminole, FSU’s first mascot who did not provide a good look for the university with his half-time antics. Secondly, for the first time, the Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF) was invited on campus to participate in

Homecoming. This event became a pivotal moment in the establishment of their relationship with the university. This era also saw the renaming of the Homecoming King and Queen to the Chief and Princess and the creation of the Osceola and Renegade tradition.

The 1990s witnessed even greater change as protests emerged from Native American activists. As a response, FSU created the Seminole Symbolism Committee tasked with the duty of self-evaluation to ensure all university-endorsed imagery and phrases are representative and respectful of the STOF. From the ‘90s till today, several lends of public support have been made to the university by the STOF confirming FSU’s permission to use their name. This entire history is the basis of my research and capstone project.

What was the biggest surprise in writing your paper?

The biggest surprise for me is where my paper ended up. When I began, I had quite a different trajectory in mind. I planned to work solely on the 1990s, the Seminole Symbolism Committee, and the protests at the time. Yet to understand these events, I felt my readers needed more background information than I could provide while still addressing the ‘90s. Therefore, I decided to bring the background into the foreground and paint the whole picture of FSU and the Seminoles.

The more I dove into my sources, the more I noticed the need to make changes. I feel as though Dr. Frank’s motto should be “follow the evidence,” as he said this phrase in each class reminding us that if we followed this rule, we would become successful in this seminar. This is exactly what ended up happening with my topic.

How easy was it to get started on such a big project?

While the idea of a 5,000-6,000 word original research project is daunting, I did not have much difficulty getting started due to Dr. Frank’s structure of the course. Almost each week assignments such as bibliographies, proposals, and book reviews were due, forcing us to perform research and gather sources. Having these regular deadlines helped me stay on track with my work and compelled me to begin this imitating paper.

Where did you get your sources from?

Since my paper deals with the history of FSU, a trip to the archives held at the Claude Pepper Center resulted in the collection of the majority of my primary sources. During this visit, I browsed through the undigitized material, taking a few hundred pictures, which allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding than I could have with the collections already readily available online. Both DigiNole and Strozier Library further aided my success as I uncovered other primary and secondary sources through their databases.

How did you stay on top of things?

For me, I like to set goals – whether I meet every one of them is a different conversation. I have found I usually perform my best and produce my highest quality of work in a five to six hour

time period per day. If I am really pushed, I can work for over 12 hours straight, but I want to avoid that if possible. Therefore, I made sure every day I dedicated those hours to the seminar.

Throughout my college career, I would venture to say I have written well over 50 papers both long and short, and I have found the best technique to keep me motivated and organized. While working on a project, in a separate document, I write 500-600 words on a section and then add it to the main document, eventually connecting all my text sections together, and creating one long paper. This keeps me focused as it allows me to concentrate my best efforts on each section, ignoring any area I am unhappy with in the previous paragraph, preventing me from getting stuck. This technique also allows the revision process to become simpler and quicker. By doing this it gave me a sense of organization and control over my thoughts and work.

Overall, would you say the process of completing your project was more fun or stressful?

The seminar is an equal mix of both. I spent most of the semester researching and collecting sources, something that I find tremendously fun. Yet as I enjoyed my time, knowledge of the deadline was weighing on me. I felt a low-level amount of constant stress throughout the 16 weeks with an uptick toward the last 4 (when I finally began drafting the paper). In the last two weeks of the semester, my stress and worry shifted from the concern of not being able to complete the project, to the concern over the quality of my work. I would not say I am a perfectionist, but if I am to submit something with my name attached, I will ensure it is completed to the best of my ability.

Once satisfied and finally in the revision process, that last week felt like smooth sailing to me. Although I still had to complete a few steps prior to submission, the stress had worn off and I had a blast correcting and perfecting my work. While the seminar is indeed difficult and stressful, these sentiments last only briefly as the feeling of the satisfaction of accomplishment is all you will remember.

What advice would you give other students who are about to take their senior seminar?

Take the seminar on a topic in which you hold the most interest. An original research paper can be authored on any subject, yet if it does not appeal to you the entire process will become that much more difficult and stressful.

Do not be put off by the expected word count. Yes, 5,000 or 6,000 words sounds intimidating, but believe me, the history major has prepared you through its rigorous curriculum and provided you with the skills needed to succeed.

Stay organized and spend more time on research than you think you should, and when you do, be open to your sources. Most of the material that ended up becoming the basis for my paper was found in the Pepper Center. I collected these documents and images as I found them interesting even though at that time I felt as though they would never be utilized. So be open, flexible, and spend more than enough time on research. Once you start writing, you do not want to have to go and look for more evidence.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

Working with these primary sources was a new experience. It was different from writing a ‘regular’ research paper as it made my mind become more critical of what I was viewing. In the senior seminar, nothing was handed to me, no prompt, and no limits. I created my own question, completed my own research, and analyzed the material. There were times when this freedom caused me to overthink and feel as if I was going down the wrong path. If I could go back, I would remind myself whenever I felt unsure of my topic to “follow the evidence.” I feel if I had remembered this phrase every second of the semester, I would not have worried or stressed as much about the trajectory of my paper.

Do you want to add anything else?

People view the history major as one which teaches events from the past, illustrates concepts, and is known for its extensive papers, yet many do not understand that these aspects are only the tip of the iceberg. So much more goes on underneath the surface of the major. Skills like time management, critical reading and thinking, the analysis and synthesis of sources, and the ability to clearly articulate thoughts are only a few of the benefits one gains from becoming a history major. I plan to attend law school next year and I am certain that my time as a history major has prepared me for this next step in my education.