After much consideration (and a productive meeting with Dr. Rehberger), I have decided to use the remaining months of the semester to begin developing the GIS mapping project that I initially proposed a few weeks ago. To review, my plan was to launch a mapping project similar to historian Robert Lee’s “Louisiana Purchases: The Indian Treaty System in the Missouri River Valley, 1804-1859” for the Great Lakes region. I wanted to visualize how aboriginal groups ceded (or were forced to cede) lands to the United States through treaties while simultaneously demonstrating how Native Americans moved beyond newly drawn American borders. Although my core idea has remained intact, I have gained a greater sense in recent weeks about how much I can realistically accomplish over a single semester time frame and what should be set aside for the future. Thus, I imagine this project moving forward in two phases, one to produce a deliverable for the course, and one to develop later in my graduate career.
By the end of the semester, I aim to create a dynamic map of Michigan and its immediate surroundings with highlighted zones illustrating how the United States government partitioned and seized Indigenous homelands throughout the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. I say “Michigan and its immediate surroundings” because the state of Michigan was an entirely American creation. Aboriginal groups across the Great Lakes had their own understandings of borders and space that I want to incorporate into my own work. Therefore, the geographic scope of my project will largely be informed by close readings of treaties with Native Americans (all available online) and supplemental information in resources such as historian Helen Hornbeck Tanner’s Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History and the “Decolonial Atlas” designed by Indigenous scholars. The Treaty of Greenville (1795) provides a strong chronological starting point for my primary source research, and I will proceed forward finding as many treaties affecting what would eventually become the state of Michigan as possible. I have already begun this process with the aid of resources available through Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library. The Clarke also has a static version of the more interactive map that I hope to create, albeit with only a handful of major treaties represented:
In addition to taking land into account, I want to make my project richer by examining the Indigenous peoples involved in and affected by treaty negotiations with the United States. That is why I plan to overlay my map with a web similar to the kinds that The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History features. I will begin by identifying the Native American signatories on treaties relevant to my project, and illustrate how they moved around, often being present at multiple treaty negotiations over the course of the nineteenth century. As I stated in my first project proposal, the OpenRefine tool will be incredibly helpful for making sense of this data, especially in instances where Americans drafting documents spelled Native American names in many different ways. Secondary source research will also be beneficial here, something that I have also begun:
In summation, my ideal deliverable for the course will be a dynamic map that illustrates not only how land transferred hands from aboriginal groups to the United States government, but how Native Americans moved and claimed new spaces.
Primary sources available online in the public domain only tell part of the story that I eventually hope to develop through my project. The identities of Native American women and the children that they often had with Euro-American men are not always represented in published treaties, but I know from past research that their voices can often be found in treaty negotiation transcripts, American Indian censuses, and similar source material that the National Archives have largely made available on microfilm. Ultimately, I hope to delve deeper into these archival sources to investigate entire families, ascertaining how treaties with the United States caused them to move together, split apart, or reorganize, perhaps in conjunction with members of different tribal groups. Given the amount of data available, though, I think it best to leave this portion of the project for a later date, and focus my efforts on building strong foundations for it.
To keep myself on track, I have developed a rough project plan (on a Google spreadsheet in MSU’s Drive) about which I am, of course, open to any comments or questions. I attempted to make it as clean as possible, but I suspect that I will have to work on multiple tasks simultaneously. One of my most important early steps will be learning about what software would be most appropriate for my project, and I suspect that hearing Dr. Watrall’s presentation next week and meeting with him individually will aid me immensely moving forward. I am also open to feedback on the scope of my project, whether it still sounds overly ambitious, or not ambitious enough.