Monumental Mobility

The Memory Work of Massasoit

By Lisa Blee, Jean M. O'Brien

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 50 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4840-8
    Published: March 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4839-2
    Published: March 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4841-5
    Published: February 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5552-7
    Published: February 2019

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Awards & distinctions

2019-2020 Winthrop Prize, The Colonial Society of Massachusetts

2020 Honorable Mention, National Council on Public History Book Award

Installed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1921 to commemorate the tercentenary of the landing of the Pilgrims, Cyrus Dallin's statue Massasoit was intended to memorialize the Pokanoket Massasoit (leader) as a welcoming diplomat and participant in the mythical first Thanksgiving. But after the statue's unveiling, Massasoit began to move and proliferate in ways one would not expect of generally stationary monuments tethered to place. The plaster model was donated to the artist's home state of Utah and prominently displayed in the state capitol; half a century later, it was caught up in a surprising case of fraud in the fine arts market. Versions of the statue now stand on Brigham Young University's campus; at an urban intersection in Kansas City, Missouri; and in countless homes around the world in the form of souvenir statuettes.

As Lisa Blee and Jean M. O’Brien show in this thought-provoking book, the surprising story of this monumental statue reveals much about the process of creating, commodifying, and reinforcing the historical memory of Indigenous people. Dallin's statue, set alongside the historical memory of the actual Massasoit and his mythic collaboration with the Pilgrims, shows otherwise hidden dimensions of American memorial culture: an elasticity of historical imagination, a tight-knit relationship between consumption and commemoration, and the twin impulses to sanitize and grapple with the meaning of settler-colonialism.

About the Authors

Lisa Blee is associate professor of history at Wake Forest University.
For more information about Lisa Blee, visit the Author Page.

Jean M. O'Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) is the Distinguished McKnight University Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.
For more information about Jean M. O'Brien, visit the Author Page.


“The book documents the fascinating continental ‘travels’ of a statue of the Wampanoag leader Massasoit, installed in 1921 at Plymouth, Ma., to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival . . . This is an object lesson in the commodification of Native American memory.” —Choice Reviews

“A welcome addition to the historiography of memory and a growing list of books focused on Indigenous monuments. Moreover, the authors’ extensive work tracing the many lives of Massasoit exhibits how difficult it is to fix the meaning of an object even after it is rendered in stone.” —Western Historical Quarterly

“Art historians will find Monumental Mobility fascinating and rich in material for teaching courses on the ethics of museum practices and art reproduction, while public historians will find Blee and O’Brien’s arguments solidly grounded in interpretive theory. . . a worthwhile read for both academics and the interested public—thanks to the indefatigable research conducted by Blee and O’Brien.” —Journal of Early American History

"This engaging book draws readers into a fascinating story that will help them make sense of collective narratives regarding nature, nationalism, 'Indians,' and the role of monuments. It is a truly enjoyable read, a book that provokes curiosity and a desire to unpack and understand." —Lisa Brooks, Amherst College

"Blee and O'Brien take up important issues like the relationship of public art and public history with the history and visibility of Indigeneity in American public spaces. Ultimately, they reveal that Massasoit cannot, in fact, be owned or controlled. He can be found in sculptural form all over the country, but his historical meaning is much more unstable. This is what America's foundational history and memory is really all about." —Erika Doss, University of Notre Dame

Multimedia & Links


Blee and O'Brien talk to Ryan Tripp for the New Books Network podcast. (05/22/2019, running time 1:28:44)