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Personal profile

Personal profile

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is Professor and Director of American Indian Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe from the village of Upper Munqapi in northeastern Arizona. Centering his research and teaching on Native American history and the history of the American West, he examines the history of American Indian education, the Indian boarding school experience, and American Indians and sport. In addition to publishing articles and books on Hopi history, he has produced a documentary film -- Beyond the Mesas -- on the Hopi boarding school experience.

In his current book project, Modern Encounters of the Hopi Past, he analyzes the ways Hopi people operated within and beyond their ancestral lands, including their involvement in the military, American film industry, various music ensembles, and higher education. It is a history that seeks to understand the Hopi past by examining the life experiences of Hopis themselves. It places the people and their voices at the center of the story and aims to demonstrate how they navigated distant lands beyond their mesas. It examines Hopi encounters of the outside world and highlights moments when the outside world also encountered the Hopi. Similar to the works by other Native scholars, this book is tribal specific, unapologetically so, and deeply grounded in his identity as a Hopi individual. In this regard, it is a personal history, but one that is closely connected to larger events and themes in Hopi and American society. 

Modern Encounters of the Hopi Past has been informed by his two previous monographs. His first book, Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), examines the Hopi experience at Sherman Institute, an off-reservation Indian boarding school in Riverside, California.  Advancing the contributions of other scholars in the fields of history, education, and indigenous studies, Gilbert uncovers the complex ways that Hopi history and culture intersected with U.S. government policies. In addition to providing a historical narrative, the book challenges the notion that a study on the Indian boarding school experience must be understood primarily through a defined framework of Indian education policies.  Highlighting Native agency, the book also explores the many ways that Indian pupils -- Zunis, Navajos, Apaches and other Indian people -- brought their identities to school and how they responded to their boarding school experience as people from indigenous communities.

In his second monograph, Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain between Indian and American  (University Press of Kansas, 2018), he examines the ways Hopi marathon runners navigated between tribal dynamics, school loyalties, and a country that closely associated sport with U.S. nationalism.  He calls attention to Hopi philosophies of running that connected the runners to their village communities and to the internal and external forces that supported and strained these cultural ties when Hopis competed in U.S. marathons. He argues that between 1908 and 1936, the cultural identity of Hopi runners challenged white American perceptions of modernity and placed them in a context that had national and international dimensions. This broad perspective linked Hopi runners to athletes from around the world, including runners from Japan and Ireland, and caused non-Natives to reevaluate their understandings of sport, nationhood, and the cultures of indigenous people.

His work and expertise on Hopi running has been featured in a ESPN documentary film entitled "Run Hopi" by Scott Harves (click here for the 15 minute version) and various news outlets, including the University of Illinois News Bureau and The News-Gazette

In addition to his research and writing, he is co-editor of the Indigenous Education series with the University of Nebraska Press, and serves on the Faculty Advisory Board of the University of Illinois Press, and the Editorial Board of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.

Prior to his current post, he served as an Associate Professor in the Department of History and the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also taught as an adjunct faculty in history at the University of Redlands, Azusa Pacific University, San Bernardino Valley Community College, and The Master’s College.


  • Ph.D. History, University of California, Riverside
  • M.A. History, University of California, Riverside
  • M.A. Theology, Talbot School of Theology
  • B.A. History, The Master's College

Research Interests

  • American Indian Studies
  • Native American History
  • 20th Century U.S. History
  • History of the American West
  • Southwest Indian History

Office Address

Department of History
309 Gregory Hall
810 S. Wright Street
Urbana, Illinois 61801

Office Phone



  • HIST 200: Intro to Historical Interpretations
  • HIST 277: Encounters in Native America
  • HIST 278: Native American History Since 1850
  • HIST 390: Sport and Society
  • HIST 476: History of the American West
  • HIST 498: Research and Writing Seminar
  • AIS 101: Intro to American Indian Studies
  • AIS 140: Native Religious Traditions
  • AIS 481: History of Indian Education
  • AIS 490: Special Topic, American Indians and Sports

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Research Output 2005 2018

Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain between Indian and American

Gilbert, M., Oct 2018, University Press of Kansas. 272 p. (CultureAmerica)

Research output: Book/ReportBook

boarding school
village community
school graduate


Gilbert, M., Jun 2016, Native Students at Work: American Indian Labor and Sherman Institute’s Outing Program, 1900-1945. Whalen, K. (ed.). University of Washington Press, p. vi-viii (Indigenous Confluences).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript

A Second Wave of Hopi Migration

Gilbert, M. S., Aug 2014, In : History of Education Quarterly. 54, 3, p. 356-361 6 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



Gilbert, M., Oct 2013, Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian. Simmons, L. W. (ed.). 2 ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. ix-xv

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript

Activities 2012 2018

  • 5 Invited talk
  • 1 Editorial activity
  • 1 Oral presentation

“Louis Tewanima: Hopi Olympian, 1908-1912

Matthew Gilbert (Invited speaker)
Apr 2017

Activity: Talk typesInvited talk

Indian Boarding Schools and Education

Matthew Gilbert (Invited speaker)
Sep 2016

Activity: Talk typesInvited talk

Hopi Runners and the Race to Modernity in the American West, 1890-1930

Matthew Gilbert (Invited speaker)
Mar 2016

Activity: Talk typesInvited talk

A Hopi Showdown on Second Mesas

Matthew Gilbert (Invited speaker)
Apr 2016

Activity: Talk typesInvited talk

Keeping the Rails Hot with the Santa Fe All Indian Band, 1923-1963

Matthew Gilbert (Speaker)
Feb 2018

Activity: Talk typesOral presentation


Hopis have made their mark in the world of running, author says

Matthew Gilbert


1 item of media coverage

Press/Media: Research

Honors & Recognition

American West
American Literature