Earlier this semester we read Changes in the Land, by William Cronon which analyzes the ecology of New England over time under the feet of Indians and English Colonists between 1620 and 1800. It did start out as boring as you're imagining, but it got better.
The point is, as I waded through the book I starting getting really uncomfortable with the fate of the indigenous people of this land as it's been documented. As frustrating as it is for me to understand people who put their own comforts and habits before simple justice as far as the environment, I honestly can't think of anything more unfair than what happened to the Indians.
The artist that immediately comes to mind is James Luna. The "Writing on Art" course I took sophomore year gave him a particular spotlight when we talked about performance art, and The Artifact Piece, perhaps his most famous piece, really stuck in my head:
Yup, that's actually an alive human... (the artist) also with some documents about his life, like a high school diploma.
The piece has a clear message but of course it brings me back to my what-is-art question... I like it, but I'm not really sure where to place it. You know?
(image with permission from James Luna)