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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.134

"The Materiality of Liberty: Tracing the Material Culture of the Improved Order of Red Men"


  • Sonja DOBROSKI

Primary authors


The Improved Order of Red Men is a U.S. fraternal society descendant of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, originating in the U.S. just before the American Revolution. The Sons and Daughters of Liberty were made famous in the mid 18th century when they dressed up as Mohawk Indians and dumped British tea from importing ships overboard to protest British rule and to assert the U.S. as sovereign. This paper will analyse the historical traces of I.O.R.M. material culture. Traces of objects, ritual, and text found in archives indicate a type of U.S. settler semiotic that was developed throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This settler materiality aided in the creation of vast temporal connections between the early sons and daughters of liberty and more contemporary members of the I.O.R.M. What solidified these connections was a materiality that signified liberty and freedom, woven throughout the entire corpus of I.O.R.M. material culture, mirroring the semiology of the United States. This paper will argue that U.S. semiology privileges ideas of freedom, liberty, and unity and these ideals are imbued within objects and symbols such as the American bald eagle and the Plains feathered headdress. Additionally, by supplanting American Indian materiality with that of a settler imaginary the I.O.R.M. sewed a praxis of settler colonial erasure in the iconography of Americana. This paper is based on four months of ethnographic and archival field work conducted in several archives throughout the continental U.S. and with current members of the order.