Recent PhD Dissertation Topics

Constructing the Navajo Capital: Landscape, Power, and Representation at Window Rock
by Rachel Leibowitz (2008)

In 1934, the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), in cooperation with a select group of Navajos (Diné, "The People"), established the town of Window Rock, Arizona, to serve as the administrative center of the Navajo reservation. At Tségháhoodzání ("Place of the Rock with a Hole in It"), a sacred site within Diné Bikéyah ("The People's Land"), Diné laborers constructed forty-nine Pueblo Revival-style buildings and one "Navajo" structure, and the town quickly became a potent symbol of government surveillance and technocratic expertise. Today it is reviled by some Diné as the most blatant display of colonial oppression in their homeland; yet others are proud of Window Rock because their elders built it, stone by stone, and because today it is the place from which the Navajo Nation determines it own path for the future.

This dissertation considers the physical and spatial ordering of buildings and people--the landscape--to follow political and social agendas. The study examines the ways in which architectural styles, spatial relationships throughout the site, and construction technologies were used to establish cultural hierarchies and reinforce discrimination against Navajos in their own homeland, despite other attempts by that administration to promote cultural pluralism. The design of Window Rock did not reflect the values or concerns of most Diné at the time, but instead represented the "Indianness" of the users as imagined by the OIA and its architects working in New York City. Through the analysis of these buildings' placement throughout the site and the "traditional" or "indigenous" iconography within them, the author reveals how the built environment of Window Rock was intended to obscure the power struggle between the OIA, the newly-formed Navajo Tribal Council, and Diné living throughout the reservation, as well as the manner in which many Diné resisted spatial control.