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Ties that bind

Tiya Miles (photo right)  is among three University of Michigan researchers chosen as a MacArthur Fellow. In total, 22 recipients each will receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support over the next five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Melanie Sanford, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry, and Yukiko Yamashita, research assistant professor, U-M Life Sciences Institute.

Miles is a public historian who explores the complex interrelationships between African and Cherokee people living and working in colonial America.

Her studies tease evidence from census records, legal petitions, missionary reports, newsprint, and oral histories and span territories east and west in the South, before and after the Trail of Tears (1838-1839) and up to the Civil War. In her first book, Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom (2005), Miles details the life of Cherokee farmer and celebrated warrior Shoe Boots, his marriage to and later abandonment by a white Southern girl he once held captive, and his subsequent union with their black servant, Doll.

In prose that is reflective, precise, and insightful, Miles challenges folklore and mythology surrounding early Afro-Indian communities while also illustrating a broader tangle of intricate personal intimacies, sovereign allegiances, and ancestral tensions. Continuing her inquiry into early Afro-Indian relations, Miles has completed a public history project and a book centered on the Diamond Hill plantation in Georgia, one of the largest Native-owned plantations in colonial history. In The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story (2010), she documents Chief James Vann’s control of his plantation and abuse of his Cherokee wives and African slaves, presenting a family history and an economic hierarchy that tragically mirrors the social order of early Southern society.

Her nuanced portrayals of African and Native people in slavery and displacement in colonial America, and their ensuing legacy, are contributing importantly to the current discourse on ancestry and citizenship in contemporary America. A scholar of range and promise, and increasingly an authoritative voice in reframing and reinterpreting the history of our diverse nation, Miles is adding texture and depth to the mosaic that was our shared past and that is our heritage.

Miles received an A.B. (1992) from Harvard University, an M.A. (1995) from Emory University, and a Ph.D. (2000) from the University of Minnesota. She was an assistant professor (2000-2002) in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, prior to joining the faculty at the University of Michigan, where she is currently a professor in the Department of History and professor and chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. She holds additional appointments in the Program in American Culture, the Native American Studies Program, and the Department of Women’s Studies.

— SOURCES: MacArthur Foundation website; and, U-M News Service.