“Towards a New Population History of Colonial California: Mortality and Fertility among Natives and Colonists in Alta California, 1769-1850”

OI Colloquium with Steve Hackel

This paper will present preliminary results from an analysis of fertility, mortality and marriage patterns among more than 89,000 Indigenous Californians and some 19,000 settlers or pobladores who lived in California’s 21 missions, 4 presidios, and 3 pueblos between 1769 and 1850.  Studying these two populations side by side raises important questions about differential outcomes from common ailments, and it challenges reigning assumptions about the transmission of infectious diseases from pobladores to Natives.

Born and raised in California, Steve Hackel earned his B.A. at Stanford University and his PhD in American History from Cornell University with specializations in early America and the American West. From 1994 to 1996 he was a post-doctoral fellow at the Omohundro Institute. He taught at Oregon State University from 1996 to 2007 and joined the faculty at UCR in the fall of 2007.  Within the larger field of American history, his research specializes on the Spanish Borderlands and the California Missions. He is especially interested in Native responses to colonialism, the effects of disease on colonial encounters, and new ways of visualizing these processes through digital history. His publications include Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850 (OIEAHC, 2005), Father Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father (Hill and Wang/FSG, 2013), numerous essays on Native California, an American History textbook, and two edited volumes on early California. He is the General Editor of the Early California Population Project and the Director of both the Early California Cultural Atlas and The Pobladores Project: A Database of Early California Families and Communities. He is co-chair of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute’s Seminar on the Spanish Borderlands. He is writing a population history of early California to 1850 with an emphasis on immigration to the region during the colonial period and the simultaneous collapse of the Native population and the rapid growth of Californio families, developments that cannot be disentangled from one another.


The OI’s Colloquium Series is an ongoing seminar for scholars to present their work in progress for graduate students and colleagues.  Advanced registration is required. All participants read the pre-circulated  paper and prepare to engage in generous and generative feedback.

When we meet in person we are limited by the size of the OI’s conference room; online we limit registration to 40 (a typical size for the colloquium). No recordings are made of the discussions and no tweeting or posting on other social media platforms during the event is permitted in order to encourage this intellectual community of trusted exchange.


Contact Beverly Smith for your copy.

Fighting for Their Places: Race and Settlement in the Early Republic

Join us for an OI Author Conversation with Samantha Seeley and Michael Witgen.

Westward expansion is a central theme in the history of the United States.  But the movement of people across the continent, forced and voluntary, was more complicated and more fraught than popular narratives suggest.  Indigenous peoples in the Old Northwest struggled to retain their homelands, with more success than we might imagine. Black Americans struggled both for the right to move west and for the right to stay put.  Telling their stories demands that we look past a simple eastwest trajectory. Instead, we must follow them as they moved east and west, north and south, from the continental interior to the corridors of power in Washington D.C.  

 Please join Samantha Seeley and Michael Witgen for a discussion about how Indigenous and Black Americans fought for their places in the founding decades of the Early Republic and how their histories might reshape a national narrative. Samantha Seeley’s forthcoming Race, Removal, and Right to Remain: Migration and the Making of the United States, argues that the nation took shape as a white republic as a consequence of negotiations over movement. Michael Witgen’s new book Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America (forthcoming 2021) explains how, against long odds, the Anishiniaabeg people of what is now Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota resisted removal. 

Samantha Seeley is an assistant professor of History at the University of Richmond. Her book, Race, Removal, and the Right to Remain: Migration and the Making of the United States, is forthcoming from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture/University of North Carolina Press in 2021. She is the co-editor of “The Question of Recovery: Slavery, Freedom, and the Archive,” a special issue of Social Text (December 2015). Her work has been supported by fellowships from the Library of Congress, the Newberry Library, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Freedom, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, among others. She holds a BA in History from Brown University and a PhD in History from New York University.

Michael Witgen is a professor in the departments of History and American Culture as well as the Native American Studies program at the University of Michigan, and he is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. On July 1, 2021, he will become a professor in the department of History and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. His publications include “An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), and “American Indians in World History,” in the Oxford Handbook of American Indian History, ed., Fred Hoxie, (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, April 2016). Professor Witgen’s work explores the juxtaposition of Native and European experiences and responses to the process of mutual discovery that created the New World in North America, with a particular focus on the Great Lakes and Great Plains. His current research examines the intersection of race, national identity, and state making in the Old Northwest of the early republic, and includes the essay “Seeing Red: Race, Citizenship, and Indigeneity in the Old Northwest,” published in Journal of the Early Republic in 2018, and awarded the Ralph D. Gray prize for best original article by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. He is also the author of Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America forthcoming from the Omohundro Institute for the Study of Early American History and Culture with partner University of North Carolina Press.

Centering the Native South: A Roundtable on Native Pasts and Futures

Join the Society of Early Americanists for a free and public Zoom webinar sponsored by Georgia Humanities and the Omohundro Institute.

Brooke Bauer (Catawba; University of South Carolina, Lancaster), Malinda Maynor Lowery (Lumbee; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), and Julie L. Reed (Cherokee; Pennsylvania State University) will discuss their scholarship while reflecting on the ways that early Indigenous histories bear on the present and future. The conversation will highlight and build on their research, which attends to Indigenous women’s lives and histories, as reflected in both written documents and material culture, to collective projects of education and care within Indigenous nations, and to the connections between Indigenous pasts and presents.

Advanced registration is required. LEARN MORE HERE.