Past Event

At the Center of Everything: The Power of Indigenous Illinois in Early America

A Road Scholar Program by Bob Morrissey

The Native people of Illinois are not often regarded as key actors in early American history. In traditional tellings, they are frequently cast as desperate victims, beleaguered peoples whose challenges in the face of colonization were so great as to reduce them quickly to a status of dependency.

Historian Bob Morrissey will tell a new and different story about the Illinois Indians in the colonial period. He will explain how they followed a long-term trajectory of pragmatism and innovation, exploiting special opportunities made possible by their location to build power and exercise enormous agency not just in their region, but throughout the Great Lakes and Plains and even in the European power centers of Quebec, Louisiana, and Charleston.

By foregrounding Native peoples’ agency and decisions, this presentation will complicate our understanding of the early history of the state and region, challenging tired stereotypes. More importantly, it will examine why the Illinois Country – and particularly the tallgrass prairie environment that the Illinois occupied in the colonial period – was such an important place in early America.

This presentation will make a case that the Illinois Country and its occupants belong at the center of our understanding of several key themes in early American history. As we celebrate the Bicentennial of the State of Illinois, we ought to revisit the Native American past of our region, as well as the often-ignored significance of the Illinois people in the pre-colonial and colonial eras.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Cecille Gerber at