Chautauqua offers a trip back in time

Chautauqua offers a trip back in time Selene Phillips took her audience back in time as she played the role of Sacagawea to conclude the 2004 Chautauqua activities held in Vermillion July 16-20. by David Lias In real life, Selene Phillips is a scholar.

This summer, she finds herself in the role of part-lecturer, part-actor.

Phillips was the last of a group of five humanities professors participating in the 2004 Chautauqua on the Great Plains, which arrived in Vermillion July 16 and concluded July 20.

The professors played the roles of William Clark, York, John Jacob Astor and Tecumseh.

Phillips took the Chautauqua stage on its Tuesday night finale as Sacagawea.

Very little is known about this woman who played a key role in the successful exploration of the Corps of Discovery.

What there is to know, however, has been thoroughly researched by Phillips.

Phillips holds a Ph.D from Purdue University in American Studies with a concentration in Native American studies, communication law and journalism. She taught for a year as a visiting professor in the School of Communication at the University of North Dakota.

For a short time Tuesday night, however, she used combined both her scholarly and acting talents to become the young Shoshone woman who lived with the Hidatsa at the Mandan-Hidatsa villages at the confluence of the Missouri and Knife rivers in what is now North Dakota.

"This is fun and arduous at the same time," she said after the Chautauqua concluded and volunteers began taking down the large tent that housed the stage where she performed just moments before. "You are spending 10 weeks with other wonderful scholars who I cherish and admire and have fun with, but you're also spending 10 weeks away from your family, husband and friends who I really care about, so it can be really hard."

Her time in Vermillion, she said, was wonderful.

"You get to share all of your scholarly work that you've done," Phillips said. "You work real hard and you read and study and you wonder if anyone really cares about all of the work you've done.

"And then people are interested and you learn that education and reading can be a very wonderful thing to do," she said.

The challenge that all five humanities professors who are participating in the Chautauqua must face, Phillips said, "is making your scholarly work come to life.

"It's a combination of holding the audience's attention, learning how to read where they are at and how interested they are," she said, "and yet still being an educator and a teacher."

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