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Philip Deloria


Katrin H. Lamon Fellow

Affiliation at time of award:
Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History
Harvard University

Paulla Ebron, SAR Wenner-Gren Fellow, 2022-2023

Philip Deloria
Photo courtesy of Philip Deloria

The Year the Stars Fell

One of the most important astronomical events of nineteenth-century North America, the Leonid meteor storm of November 1833 asked its many witnesses to make sense of something radically out of the ordinary: a sky bursting with some 240,000 meteors and fireballs. The year 1833 references notable crises in U.S. history: Nullification, Indian Removal, anti-slavery, nativism, the Second Great Awakening, economic instability, among others. As intriguing, however, are the ways people from diverse socio-cultural groups—the enslaved, various Native peoples, would-be scientists, millennialists, and others—made sense of what seemed a powerful celestial sign. Drawing from Plains Indian winter counts and oral histories, slave narratives, the proclamations of evangelicals and Latter-Day Saints, the crowdsourced hypotheses of elite “men of science,” and a range of other accounts, this project explores the material history of an event that revealed shared uncertainties concerning faith, spirit, nature, and the production of knowledge. Deloria’s goal is to write a synchronic history focused on a few hours, explored across a near-continental space; not simply a multi-cultural portrait, but a multi-epistemological one, committed to exploring disparate beliefs on the ground, and knitting them together into a coherent portrait of an unruly space in a moment of epistemic disequilibrium.