Napier, Rita

Napier, PhD
Year Inducted: 
Rita Napier
  • Consultant and commentator on Kansas history for over 40 years
  • Consultant for the script and provided on-camera commentary for one-hour 2003 PBS documentary “Who Owns the Past”
  • Former teacher of all subjects at Hoonah Indian Village High School in Alaska
  • 1983: Received H. Bernerd Fink Teaching Award
  • 2004: Recipient of W.T. Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • 1998: Winner of the first ever Wally and Marie Faculty Awards

Rita Napier, Kansas Historian and Associate Professor of History at the University of Kansas, has been a consultant and commentator on Kansas history for Kansas communities and historical museums throughout the state for the past 40 years, and has blessed the state with her accomplished research and education on the subject.

She began her education at Texas Women’s University from 1958-1960, then completed her BA in History at the American University from 1960-1962.  She attended Central Missouri State in 1963 and then traveled back to the American University to finish her MA and PhD degrees in American History.

From 1962-1964 and 1965-1966, Dr. Napier was a teacher of all subjects at Hoonah Indian Village High School in Alaska.  In 1967, she worked as a Smithsonian Institution Research Fellow.  She followed that stint up with work in 1968 at the National Archives as an Assistant Archivist and for the National Geographic Society, which whom she went on an Alaskan research and photo expedition.  She taught history from 1969-1971 at Longview Community College before landing full time in 1973 at the University of Kansas, where she had been a Teaching Assistant from 1966-1968.

She was honored for her work as an outstanding educator in 1983 with the H. Bernard Fink Teaching Award and in 2004 with a Kemper Award.  She is noted for encouraging her students to challenge historical stereotypes and traditions.  Her scholarly pursuits have mainly dealt with the social and economic history of the frontier, with particular reference to Kansas.  She is the editor or author of many books and films on these topics.  She has been invited to present at the Michigan Consortium in Quantitative History (1971) and at the Newberry Seminar in Family History (1973).  A collection in her name is held at the Kenneth R. Spencer Research Library, which contains papers she has collected in her research on American Indian history, the history of Kansas, the founding of the KU Indigenous Nations Studies Program, the family letters of Leavenworth, Kansas medical doctor Lizzie Morgan, and Potawatomi land use papers.

Dr. Napier was a consultant for the script and provided on-camera commentary for one-hour 2003 PBS documentary “Who Owns the Past.”  This documentary focused on the American Indians’ long struggle for control of their ancestral remains.  As a member of the Kansas Governor’s Board on Preservation of Unmarked Burial Sites, she was featured in the documentary for her participation in the repatriation ceremonies for some U.S. Army scouts’ skulls.

Professor Napier is a member of the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and the Kansas Historical Society, and she a member of the Kansas Humanities Council Speaker’s Bureau.  She is also the host of a 5-6 minute weekly radio series on American Indians and their cultures.  For her extraordinary work serving Kansas, in 1998 she was named the winner of the first ever Wally and Marie Faculty Awards.


Kansas and the West: New Perspectives (2003)

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