History Department
History Department

Graduate Student Spotlight: Nakia Parker

Fri, September 14, 2018
Graduate Student Spotlight: Nakia Parker
Nakia Parker, Ph.D. Candidate, UT History

Hosted by the Institute for Historical Studies, the New Work In Progress (NWP) Series showcases some of our current Ph.D. candidates and their research. While this year’s series has concluded, we are continuing to highlight our graduate students on this website with a series of Q&A articles. We will feature both their NWP papers and different stages of graduate student life post-comprehensive exams, including archival research, teaching, publications, conference presentation, and job placement. This article features Nakia Parker.

Shery Chanis: In your New Work In Progress paper, you discuss chattel slavery in the antebellum southwest as a result of Indian removal. How did you become interested in this topic?

Nakia Parker: I became interested in this topic as an undergraduate (junior). I was taking a class on the American Civil War at SUNY New Paltz and looking for a subject to write about for the final research paper. I decided to write about American Indian participation in the conflict. I was surprised, to say the least, when my professor told me that some Native people were slaveholders and fought for the Confederacy. In fact, the last Confederate general to surrender was a Cherokee slaveholder, Stand Watie. That conversation piqued my interest in the topic and I decided to pursue the subject in graduate school here at UT.

Shery: You argue that the forced migration of both the Indians to the west and their slaves has not received as much scholarly attention. Why do you think that is the case? What do you hope your research will contribute?   

Nikki: It is a sensitive topic. When we think of the forced migration of Indians to the West, we think of the Trail of Tears, Native people being forced into detention centers, being made to travel under the purview of federal troops, rampant disease, etc. Indeed, all of those horrible things did happen to many Native people. But Native people sold allotments of land to buy enslaved people when moving to Indian Territory. These enslaved people performed tasks that made the trek somewhat easier. Indian slaveholders also knew that enslaved people could help rebuild the wealth that was taken away from them because of forced removal. I think we view the subjects of chattel slavery and Indian removal as separate, but in reality these two subjects really are intertwined. We cannot talk about the history of capitalism and the expansion of slavery in the South and the West without talking about Indian Removal, and my research highlights that point.

Shery: How does this paper fit into your dissertation?

Nikki: This paper is a section of chapter five. I discuss the domestic slave trade and other forced migrations enslaved people experienced to and from Indian Territory.

Shery: You delivered your NWP paper as preparation for your presentation at the Organization of American Historians (OAH) annual conference, one of the largest conferences in our profession. How did you decide which topic to submit for consideration? In addition to the NWP paper, how did you prepare for the conference once your abstract was accepted?

Nikki: I was invited to join a panel, so the overall theme was already chosen for me: how scholars can re-conceptualize ideas about the formation of the antebellum West. When I am asked to join a panel, I make sure to ask the organizer what general themes/arguments they have in mind for the panel, so I can contribute to the cohesiveness of the presentation. I decided to write about the domestic slave trade in Indian Territory, since the slave trade happening in the American West instead of the South refashions how we think about how the West was formed. Once the abstract was accepted, I made an outline of my main points. I always find it helpful to sketch out the paper beforehand. One of the most helpful suggestions given to me for presenting at conferences was from my advisor, Dr. Daina Ramey Berry. She told me to write specifically for a conference audience. That means I write my conference papers to be heard, not read, using short and concise sentences. I outline the paper for the listener in the beginning so it is easy to follow. I also make sure to keep the paper within the time guidelines: one of the most uncomfortable experiences for me at a conference is when a paper runs too long, the speaker knows it, and they rush through the paper and skips pages of argument. No one is listening at that point because they are nervous for the speaker. I never want that to be me if I can help it!! So I always, always, always time my paper beforehand!!! Of course this requires not writing a paper at the last minute. I have found timing my presentation beforehand contributes to mitigating my nervousness since I know I have plenty of time for my presentation.

Shery: Can you talk about the conference experience, from traveling to the conference to presenting your paper and networking?

Nikki: The conference experience is intense! I feel like I always have to be “on” all the time, since it is not only about the presentation, but networking opportunities as well, with fellow scholars and university presses interested in publishing the dissertation into a manuscript. I think it can be easy to be overwhelmed, since there are so many panels and workshops to attend. It is good to look at the program beforehand and decide where to spend your energies and what you will attend to avoid exhaustion. I have to admit, even though the preparation and travel is a lot of work, I enjoy attending conferences, sharing my work, and meeting fellow graduate students and scholars in my field. Presenting and attending conferences has introduced me to people doing similar research and to new friends as well.

parkerShery: You received the 2018 Huggins-Quarles Award and a Merrill Travel Grant. Can you share your thoughts on receiving the awards?

Nikki: I was happy to get both awards! But the Huggins-Quarles I am especially thrilled to receive. Many of my “academic heroes” have received it: Keisha Blain, Ned Blackhawk, Dylan Penningroth, and the late Stephanie Camp, to name a few, are scholars I admire who have received the award in the past. So it’s wonderful – and humbling – to be in the same company as these historians.

Shery: What advice would you give graduate students about presenting your work at conferences?

Nikki: For a first conference presentation, find a conference that fits your research but that is “low stakes.” Perhaps a small regional or a graduate student conference. Then work your way up to the national and large regional ones. And practice, practice, practice your presentation beforehand.

Interview by Shery Chanis, Ph.D. Candidate, UT History Dept.

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