Occupying Massachusetts

Layers of History on Indigenous Land

A revealing look at how Native American lands in Massachusetts have been transformed.
Date Published :
August 2022
Publisher :
George F Thompson Publishing
Contributor(s) :
Sandra Matthews, David Brule, Suzanne Gardinier
Illustration :
61 color photographs and 1 map
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding : Hardback
ISBN : 9781938086892
Pages : 100
Dimensions : 8.5 X 10 inches
Stock Status : Not Yet Published. Available for Pre-Order


Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land is an art book that engages with history. Featuring photographs of dwellings and vernacular structures found in rural Massachusetts, the book is a meditation on the human occupation of land, with an emphasis on the long presence of Indigenous people and the waves of settlement by people from other countries that began during the early 1600s and continues today.

Utilizing a muted color palette, Matthews’s photographs of both structures and historical markers are subtle and haunting. They suggest the presence of histories, embedded in the landscape but often invisible. Although the book is focused on Massachusetts, it implicitly raises larger issues of settlement and nationhood. How did the United States of America come to occupy its land? How is this story told? 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 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 histories are written and how they change over time. Concluding essays by Indigenous activist David Brule and poet Suzanne Gardinier provide important perspectives as well, connecting the past and future. Occupying Massachusetts is a moving story whose message will be appreciated for years to come.

About The Author

Sandra Matthews is a photographer who, from 1982 to 2016, was a faculty member at Hampshire College. Her previous books are Present Moments (self-published, 2020) and Pregnant Pictures, co-authored with Laura Wexler (Routledge, 2000). In 2010, she founded The Trans Asia Photography Review, which she edited until 2020. Matthews’s photographs are in numerous collections, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Henry Art Gallery, Portland [Oregon] Art Museum, Smith College Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Women in Photography International Archive at Yale.

David Brule was born and raised in Montague, Massachusetts, and is of Nehantic, Narragansett, and Huron/Wendat descent. He is President of the Nolumbeka Project, Inc., whose mission in part is “to promote a deeper, broader, and more accurate depiction of the history of the Native Americans/American Indians of the Northeast before and during European contact and colonization.”

Suzanne Gardinier was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and grew up in Scituate. An American poet and essayist, she teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of The New World (Pittsburgh, 1993), which won the 1992 Associated Writing Program’s Award Series in Poetry. She is also the recipient of the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry.


“The places on which we stand flicker with the subtle traces of peoples who have come before us. In this moving book, Sandra Matthews asks us to look—really look—at the relationship between us and them and meditate on what such things as possession, occupation, and settlement might mean. Her photographs are haunting and also disturbingly beautiful.”

- Anthony W. Lee, Idella Plimpton Kendall Professor of Art History at Mt. Holyoke College, author of six books about photography, and founder/editor of the acclaimed book series Defining Moments in American Photography

“Thank you for sharing your work, Sandra. Occupying Massachusetts is a striking composition of images and words, lending a gleam of light into long stories that linger on the periphery. They're always there, next to us, but are seldom seen full frontal—it's more, rather, that they are sensed. Your juxtapositions enable the clarity that can come when, for example, you can see a hazy star more distinctly by looking next to it, rather than directly at it.”

- Rich Holschuh, Elnu Abenaki Tribal Historic Preservation Officer

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