I’m an Associate Professor of History at Colgate University, where I teach courses on global environmental history, Brazil and Amazonia, and the histories of Native peoples in the Americas.
My scholarship focuses on Indigenous history in Brazil. Whenever possible, I’ve looked for Native voices in the historical sources, and this search has brought me to regional archives across Brazil, from the Amazonian port city of Belém to the far-western city of Cuiabá. In these places I’ve found documents that give a close-to-the-ground view of life in riverine villages, frontier outposts, capital cities, and long-distance canoes. You can read more about my books here; see below on my new book, which was published in July 2021.
A more recent interest is environmental health history. I’m curious about how people conceive of past toxic exposures—whether in relation to themselves, their families, or their communities—and how these exposures link them to other people and places. My first foray into this topic is a personal essay, called “A Shared Toxic History.” I’m not sure what the eventual research project will look like (and it’s hard to plan anything these days!), but for now my focus is on learning oral history methods.
I’m originally from Berkeley, but now I live in the rural center of New York State with my husband and daughter, along with a dog, two draft horses, and a flock of ducks. We grow a lot of our own food, without the use of agrichemicals. [Photos here!] I feel lucky to spend so much time with my hands in the dirt, thinking about worms, compost, bees, rain, and other earthly things of fundamental importance.
Contact: hroller [at] colgate.edu.
A new history of contact, attuned to Indigenous aims and perspectives.
Available July 2021 from Stanford University Press
“This beautifully written and deeply researched history opens new interpretations of both peaceful and violent contacts among Indigenous peoples and colonial settlers, missionaries, and traders. Heather F. Roller highlights stories of engagement across Native Brazil, focused on the Mura and Guaikurú’s emblematic strategies for autonomy that shaped the sertões and framed the survival of their present-day descendants.”
—Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Indigenous people living independently from colonial and national rule used to cover much of the American continent. This book compellingly tells the vigorous histories of key Indigenous societies around Brazil and its western borders. Roller’s groundbreaking study is timely, stirring and revelatory.”
—Mark Harris, University of St Andrews, Scotland