“Tending to the past” by Eloisa Valenzuela-Mendoza

Native American creation legend for Devil’s Tower

In the 2014 dissertation “Tending to the past: the historical poetics of Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey” the author Eloisa Valenzuela-Mendoza compares two historical poets to help show the importance of the lived experience in establishing the cultural history of the United States of America. Both Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey engage in individual projects of historical reclamation through filling in public knowledge gaps concerning the individual’s internal struggle as it relates to their specific culture’s historical narrative. Joy Harjo’s work focuses on reviling the inner dialogue of the modern Native American caused by the history of their descendants. Natasha Trethewey focuses on a similar level of dialogue for African Americans.

 Historical facts are important, but the memories of those histories – manifested in personal memory, cultural memory, public memory, and popular culture – have much to reveal regarding the ongoing legacies of empire in U.S. America. Understanding the emotional truths of history through the poetry and prose of Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey is the driving force of this dissertation.


Within the article Eloisa Valenzuela-Mendoza explains that these historical gaps are not a failure of acquisition, but rather they are inevitable given the traditional methods used in history-writing which focus on events and not on personal experiences. Through the comparison of the work and impact of these two artists, Eloisa Valenzuela-Mendoza argues the importance of personal narrative on history, and the importance of history on personal narrative. Read more here on these amazing poets and their impact on cultural studies here in the United States.


Eloisa Valenzuela-Mendoza. “Tending to the past: the historical poetics of Joy
Harjo and Natasha Trethewey
” PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2014.