I research colonialism and slavery with a focus on the American South. In my first book, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Harvard, 2010), I traced the dynamic nature of captivity from roughly A.D. 1000, when Native chiefdoms competed for regional power, through the conclusion of the Second Seminole War in 1842. Captivity was a fluid practice, which Southern Indians repeatedly reinvented to deal with a succession of challenges, including chiefly competition during the pre-Columbia era, post-contact demographic disaster, and incorporation into the transatlantic economy in the colonial era. Not until the late eighteenth century did captivity transition from a kin-based to a race-based practice, a shift that had profound consequences for all inhabitants of the American South. In addition to enhancing the visibility of Native peoples in the broader narratives of both U.S. and Southern history, this project addressed the construction of race and racism and the global history of slavery. As the Frederick Douglass Prize Committee noted, “Snyder intertwines the ambitions and vulnerabilities of Indians, Europeans, and Africans to the effect of a new origins story for American slavery.”
Currently, I am completing my second book project, Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson, which is under contract with Oxford and set for a fall 2016 release. The book centers on the community that developed around Choctaw Academy, the first federally-controlled Indian boarding school in the United States, which operated from 1825 to 1848 on the Kentucky plantation of prominent politician Richard Mentor Johnson. In addition to white and Indian teachers, the school was supported by the labor of free and enslaved African Americans. Although initiated by the Choctaw Nation, the Academy eventually became home to nearly 700 boys and young men from seventeen different Native nations throughout the Southeast and Midwest. Beginning auspiciously as a voluntary, collaborative project between Native peoples and the federal government, Choctaw Academy catered to the children of Indian elites and advertised a classical education with a curriculum that included Latin, moral philosophy, and advanced study in law and medicine. In the 1830s, however, with the rise of scientific racism and Indian removal, the curriculum deteriorated, and the school itself became a battleground, where students, slaves, and staff clashed over race, status, and the future of America. Choctaw Academy both anticipated and contrasted with later Indian and African American schooling experiences, but my project addresses a much broader historiography as well. Great Crossings reveals much about the gap between racial ideology and everyday practice as well as cross-cultural ideas about class and gender, and American and Indian notions of sovereignty during a crucial era in the continent’s history. Arguing that, for people of color, the colonial era extended into—and even accelerated—in the early to mid-nineteenth century, Great Crossings explores the complex ways in which colonized people responded to early U.S. imperialism.