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Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land
by Sandra Matthews
with texts by David Brule and Suzanne Gardinier

This book will change the way you think about land and home.

Winner of 2023 Gold Medal IPPY Award for Best Regional Book of Non-Fiction for the Northeast

Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land is an art book that engages with history and memory. Sandra Matthews's subtle photographs of vernacular structures and historic sites offer a uniquely personal meditation on the human occupation of land, with an emphasis on the long presence of Indigenous people, whose lands have been transformed by people coming here from all over the world since the early 1600s.

Utilizing a muted color palette, the photographs suggest the presence of deep histories that are embedded in the landscape but often are invisible. Although the book focuses on Massachusetts, it implicitly raises larger issues of settlement and conquest, nationhood and identity. How did the United States of America come to occupy its land? How is this story of occupation remembered and rendered, by whom and for whom? As a longtime occupant/occupier of Massachusetts herself, Matthews aims to understand more deeply the land on which she lives.

The main text of the book comes from her photographs of historic markers, which were installed around the state at different times by different interest groups. The words on these markers describe early relations between Indigenous people and largely English settlers, from diverse points of view. In this way, the book explores how difficult and differing histories are written and told and how those stories change over time. This theme is carried forward in essays by Indigenous activist David Brule and writer Suzanne Gardinier, who suggest how both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can reconcile the past.

Occupying Massachusetts is a profound reflection on the complex meanings of home and of place. Its insights about landscape, history, and memory will be appreciated for years to come.

Read a review in the Daily Hampshire Gazette's "Book Bag"

Read an extensive feature on the book in the Partnership of Historic Bostons blog (2023)

Sandra Matthews (photographer) and David Brule (Indigenous activist and essayist) presentation 2023

$40.00 U.S. (Short discount; trade discounts available for bulk sales).
104 pages with 65 four-color plates by the author and 1 map = 66
10.0" x 8.5" landscape
ISBN: 978-1-938086-89-2

Published June 2022

Distributed by Casemate/IPM

Published in association with the Center for the Study of Place.

About the Author

Book Events & Exhibitions:
March through June 2, 2024
Exhibition: Unearthing
Danforth Art Museum
(see images from and read about the show)

November 21, 2023 at 6:30 pm
Presentation by Sandra Matthews and David Brule Sunderland Public Library, Sunderland, MA

April 28, 2023 at noon
Book talk with Matthews and Brule via Zoom
Amherst Historical Society (join meeting here)

April 12, 2023 at 2pm
Book talk with Matthews and Brule
Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium
Garden Cinemas, 61 Main Street, Greenfield, MA

April 6 - May 30, 2023
Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land will be on view in Room 428, a meeting room used by the Massachusetts State Senate
May 30 at 1:30 pm, Sandra Matthews (photographer) and David Brule (Indigenous activist and essayist) will speak about the book and the issues it raises in Room 428 at the State House, 24 Beacon Street, Boston, MA

February 21, 2023 at 7pm
Book talk with Matthews and Brule via Zoom
Partnership of Historic Bostons (register here)

Joint presentations by Sandra Matthews and David Brule: September 18, 2022 at 2pm
Great Falls Discovery Center, Turners Falls, MA
This will be an outdoor event, weather permitting.

September 22, 2022 at 6:30 pm
Zoom presentation hosted by Kestrel Land Trust.
Register here.

October 2, 2022 at 2pm
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, 10 Memorial St, Deerfield, MA

Panel presentation by Sandra Matthews:
September 24, 2022 at 11:30 am
Green Mountain Book Festival, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT

Book Information Sheet (pdf)



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