Initially, this project began as an inquiry into the way a digital construction of space can offer new ways on thinking about cultural landscape, spatial politics, and boundaries. Based upon the first chapter of my dissertation, this digital rendition titled, “Mapping the Upper Missouri,” examines how the fur trade on the northern plains gradually transformed into sites of federal administration by roughly 1860. One of my primary objectives is to take an alternative approach towards how scholars and general audiences alike engage with the history of the fur trade by focusing on the nuanced implications of exchange, like agency, negotiation, and diplomacy. Traditionally, histories of the fur trade often center on the spaces, conditions, and materiality of the trade itself, rather than consider how the trade constructed and re-constructed new definitions of the land and resources. Expanding upon the foundations of spatial history (and its digital counterparts) examined by Richard White, this project seeks to reconsider the relationship between space and time as a way to read (and visualize) the past.

To Data Map or Story Map, that is the Question

Natoyist-Siksina’ is depicted in this scene as the figure wearing a red shawl. John Mix Stanley, The Last of their Race, 1853, U.S. Department of State.

My original intent for this project was to construct a data map using a georectified 1801 map of the upper Missouri River region (most of present-day Montana) and present pins with pop-up information detailing various trade items, historical moments, and the growth of trading posts throughout the region. After completing the first chapter of my dissertation, however, I realized that I could tell a much more fascinating story about the unlikely cast of characters, unusual products of trade, and the imposition of ideas that transformed the upper Missouri. By exploring the work of artists, travel writers, and cartographers, a variety of interpretations about the landscape and its evolution over time offers new perspectives on the trade. Additionally, with a diverse presence of Indigenous communities who maintained longstanding intertribal relations, kinship networks, and business connections with the trade, Native peoples played an instrumental role in determining the fur trade’s structure and conditions. Known as what Kathleen DuVal coins as the “Native Ground,” it was Indigenous people, not Euro-American traders, who actively defined the trade. Such was the case of Natoyist-Siksina’, a Kainah Blackfoot woman who married Alexander Culbertson, a renowned trader for the American Fur Company. Although we can primarily understand Natoyist-Siksina’ through artistic and written representations of her, reading and viewing against the grain of these sources allows us to see her impact as an interpreter, host, and a delegate of her Blackfoot community.

In order to represent art, literature, maps, and other unique data in a meaningful way, I decided that a story map would enable both the representation of sources as pins while also offering interpretation and a trajectory for change over time. I will use code to produce a story map that resembles Knightlab’s Story Map JS and pull in the information for the pins using google sheets. Visualizing the data in this mode will enable site visitors the chance to interact with a diverse spread of information that is both chronologically and geospatially grounded.