Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Other Lives: Keith C. Seele

A couple of weeks ago I came across Amorette Diedericka Seele Ground. I'm not sure how I encountered it, but the name caught my eye.

Mary Scriver tells the story of a recent graduate of the high school on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana:
One took me totally by surprise: Amorette Diedericka Seele Ground. I wish I could send you the photo but they didn’t make it to the website, so I’ll try for a word picture. A young woman with a Mona Lisa smile and a perfect Plains Indian profile wearing a pristine classic Stetson, loose hair, long pendant earrings and a high-collared but sleeveless lavendar blouse. The collar is buttoned but the opening below is not. In the background is a strawstack. I do not know this girl, but I know her parents, Richard Ground who married Elsie Mad Plume, and I knew Diedericka Seele.

In the Sixties Diedericka and Keith Seele came every summer in their Mercedes and with their Boston Bull terrier, Sparky. They always stayed at Moyer’s motel which had rooms with kitchenettes. According to the Glacier Reporter of Aug. 22, 1957, Keith Seele was visiting and Chewing Black Bone named him “Sits in the Middle.” Ish-tut-sick-taupi, a real Indian name inherited from a real person. A few weeks later Gary Cooper was given the name “Chief Eagle Cloud,” a suitably Hollywood name.

Chewing Black Bone was one of the last old-time Indians, a man of rock-ribbed honor and independence and an important force in the shaping of early Blackfeet self-governance. He is the old man sitting down in Bob Scriver’s sculpture called “Transition.” Blinded by trachoma, he lived in a lodge and mended his own moccassins. Keith got to know him because he was “Ahku Pitsu” in the James Willard Schultz books, a close friend of Schultz who gave him many stories and shared adventures. Keith was a dedicated admirer of Schultz and edited “Blackfeet and Buffalo : Memories of Life among the Indians” which is a collection of short stories that hadn’t been been gathered up earlier. Schultz is buried not far from where Chewing Black Bone lived with his descendants, the Mad Plumes, on Two Medicine just past the old Holy Family Mission. The Mad Plumes are a rodeo family. The grave was originally unmarked and it remains hard to get to since it’s across an irrigation ditch and up a steep bluff. Keith was the one who finally arranged for a headstone. Sid Gustafson gets up there to pull weeds every spring.

Keith’s real lifework was as an Egyptologist. He was quite famous in that field, and charged with extracting as much information as possible from the area that would be flooded by the Aswan Dam. He had begun adult life as a missionary in Germany and while he was there, he found Diedericka. The pair took marriage as seriously as is possible, considering it sacred and dedicated.

Keith didn’t want Diedericka to have any children because if she did, he felt it would not be safe to take a child into the field so that she would have to stay at home with them -- and he couldn’t bear to be parted from her. For her, this was both a protection and a burden. But there was another element: she had a weak heart so child-bearing might have killed her. Nevertheless, a doctor explained to her that she must not hurry in life -- then she would be safe. She learned to walk with long, slow steps and got along fine. They generally lived on a boat of some kind in Egypt but during the university year, they lived near the Oriental Institute attached to the University of Chicago. Keith’s books, such as his revision of “When Egypt Ruled the East,” remains vital reading.

When Keith asked for permission to marry Diedericka in Germany, the matter was considered very carefully because the family knew, even before the wars, that she would probably not return and they would never see her again. When they agreed that Keith was promising and honorable, her mother and sisters made an album of photos and other things for her to take with her as a kind of “talismanic bundle” holding a little piece of home. They were right -- she never did see them again but there were many, many fond letters.

The couple spent many happy summer days with Chewing Black Bone and the Mad Plumes. They were happy for Elsie Mad Plume when she married Richard Ground because it united two families with old-time ties. Agnes Mad Plume and Mary Ground, carriers of the heritage as the women are, were formidable grandmothers. I knew them both, but not as closely as Diedericka did. When Keith died, Elsie and Richard invited her to come live with them as their honored ancestor. She didn’t do it, but it moved her deeply...
Read the rest, it's well worth it.

The Seele's summer sojourns in Montana are well know to old timers at the Oriental Institute. Some of them (i.e. us) were even aware that Keith Seele had edited Blackfeet and Buffalo : memories of life among the Indians, by James W Schultz. Needless to say, he is far more well-known at the OI for his years of labor on the Nubian rescue expedition (and see its published manifestation), and for his years as editor of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies from 1948 to 1971. Oral tradition at the Institute also had it that Seele had certain... "unorthodox" views about languages of Native Americans. In short, rumor had it that he believed that there was a connection between Native American languages and the ancient Egyptian language. I never made any attempt to verify this, I think I asked Bruce Williams and Bob Biggs their opinions on the matter, but I don't recall that either of them had any insight about this. So I tucked it away as a mere curiosity.

Until sometime in the 90s when I got a call at the Research Archives from an anthropologist, I think at Marquette University (perhaps she'll read this and verify what I remember not very well). She was in search of Keith Seele's papers. She was aware of his life in Montana and of his friendship with and adoption by Chewing Black Bone who had named him “Sits in the Middle.” Ish-tut-sick-taupi. She was also aware of his interest in the Blackfeet language and the fact that he was trained in Egyptian philology and epigraphy. She had heard that he had transcribed lengthy and detailed phonetic renderings of stories told to him by Chewing Black Bone, stories that remained part of the tradition by which had not been otherwise recorded by members of that older generation. She wondered if these transcriptions could be found, and told me that they would be a unique and highly important source for the language and culture of the Blackfeet, and a treasured repository of the community's culture.

I asked around, and was told that such papers did not appear to be among the Seele archive, and that in fact nothing of his summer life in Montana was among his papers. The anthropologist and I spoke again a couple of times but I never heard if these manuscripts had surfaced. In the mid-1990s papers from the estate of Diederika Millard Seele made there way into the Oriental Institute Archives. I imagine - I hope - the papers relating to this episode made there way into some accessible collection.

Does anyone know any more about this?

The bookplate of Keith Cedric Seele from Bookplates of Scholars in Ancient Studies

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

John Callaway dead at 72

Any halfway worthwhile institution, and the OI is far more than just that, is built not only by its immortals (a Frankfort, an Adams, a Reiner, a Wilson, a Braidwood [well, three Braidwoods plus an in-law, actually], to name a few beyond the incomparable Breasted) but also by legions of people, working both inside and outside its walls, whose bricks are perhaps fewer in number or duller in sheen, but which nevertheless ably carry their share of the load.

John Callaway, a journalist who died suddenly on June 23, 2009 at the age of 72, was just such a bricklayer for the Institute, which of course knows a thing or two about bricks. The obit and this interview from ten years ago give something of an overview of his impressive career--it's not half-bad to be called the best interviewer in the country by William F. Buckley, even in a fairly left-handed fashion.

One of John's many successes, though, is unlikely to be given full justice in any obituary or even at the doubtlessly boisterous memorial service which I will be sorry to miss, and that was his founding and directing the Benton Fellows program, which between 1983 and 1994 brought over 120 broadcast journalists from the United States and ten other countries to the University of Chicago for a year of classes, lectures, and special programs. A can't-miss element of their experience was inevitably a visit to the Oriental Institute, highlighted by an encounter with the indomitable Erica Reiner, who I once saw forcibly eject a New York Times reporter from her office for asking the wrong questions.

Erica, however, had all the time in the world for John, and he for her: he wrote to me a while back that "she was one of my human and intellectual heroes. She always took such good care to see that we had superb Seminar sessions with her and her fine colleagues." Through the vagaries of my life, I have come across about a dozen of the Benton Fellows, most of whom remain active (and, indeed, increasingly influential) in broadcast or web journalism. About half of them spontaneously mentioned the OI/Erica experience when I brought up the U of C, and the other half, when I said that I had worked at the OI, raved about how welcoming Erica and her colleagues were, and how fascinating their work was.

About sixteen months ago, I wrote to John to ask whether he would contribute to this blog, and his reply was characteristic: he was too busy "with hundreds and hundreds of pages" of reading to produce or even promise anything for the blog, but his next book was to include a section on the OI and he'd send me something when he was drafting chapters. Sadly, he didn't and, maddeningly, I didn't nag. I just hope that he was able to get a few words about the OI down on paper, and that we can excerpt that book when it appears. John, who was unencumbered by a degree from the U of C or indeed from the U of anwyhere, was an awfully sensitive and thoughtful guy, and it would be good for all of us to know how a place like the Institute touched him.

John was one of the people who I had either the good sense or good luck to invite to contribute an inscription for the ages, when the OI's roof was being rebuilt. As it happens, I remember his submission, which focused on his wife and daughters. Then, in a different ink, he wrote: "Can you add Erica Reiner's name to the blessing? I think I should hedge my bets." Well, John, consider that bet laid, and rest in peace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

News: Meresamun's face

Even more news about Meresamun:

Cold case techniques bring mummy’s face to life, University of Chicago Press Release, June 22, 2009.
Thanks to the skills of artists who work on cold case investigations, people have a chance to see what the Oriental Institute’s mummy Meresamun may have looked like in real life.

A Chicago forensic artist and a police artist in Maryland prepared the images, which depict an engaging woman in her late 20s as she would have looked in 800 B.C. Both artists, though working independently, produced strikingly similar images. The drawings are on display at the Oriental Institute Museum, and have been placed on the institute’s Web site (http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/special/meresamun/), on Meresamun’s Facebook page, her Wikipedia listing and on YouTube....


See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Former OI Director Robert McCormick Adams Honored with Alumni Medal

Adams, former Oriental Institute director and anthropology professor, honored with Alumni Medal , University of Chicago Chronicle, June 11, 2009, Vol. 28 No. 18.
The Alumni Association has bestowed this year its highest honor, the Alumni Medal, on Robert McCormick Adams, a former Chicago faculty member and administrator (Ph.B.,’47, A.M.,’52, Ph.D.,’56), who is retired from the anthropology department of the University of California, San Diego...