It is with great pleasure that I am finally able to announce the public launch of my digital cultural heritage project, Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties. The purpose of this project is to provide a dynamic visualization of the tangled Anishinaabe and American social networks weaved through treaty negotiations across the late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Great Lakes region. Indigenous treaty signers have become subjects of growing scholastic scrutiny with initiatives like the US Treaty Signers Project increasing the ease with which researchers can identify them in United States legal documents. My work does not seek to supplant projects such as these. Rather, it aims to illustrate the connectivity of Native American and Euro-American representatives to an assortment of diplomatic engagements during a period when the American government was attempting to assert dominance over a space that defiantly remained part of Indian Country. In doing so, it demonstrates how even though the Great Lakes region may have been geographically vast, recurring instances of diplomatic contestation rendered it much closer knit.

The Project’s Design

The centerpiece of Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties is an interactive visualization of the connections between approximately 1,600 Anishinaabe and American signers of 24 Indigenous land cession treaties starting with the Treaty of Greenville (1795) and ending with the Treaty of Detroit (1855). To compose my dataset, I accessed scanned copies of these treaties through the Oklahoma State University Library, extracted the names of all the treaty signers, and entered them into OpenRefine, an open source data cleaning tool. Integral to my data cleaning process was determining when Anishinaabe representatives signed multiple treaties but employed different spellings of their names (or different names altogether). Several essays in the volume Lines Drawn upon the Water (2008) proved instructive, but many instances arose in which I needed to use my own discretion. Therefore, I made my entire dataset accessible on the project website with comment functionality enabled to allow for critique or potential collaboration in refining my work. At last, I designed my data visualization using the open source Gephi software, taking stylistic (and analytical) inspiration from Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. Each node on the visualization is color-coded to distinguish between treaties and treaty signers, and clicking on these nodes highlights their links to other nodes. For those unfamiliar with each treaty at the heart of my project, I have provided links to transcriptions on the project website, and I will soon be linking to additional primary and secondary sources from the National Archives as well as Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library.

The Project’s Future

One especially exciting aspect of Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties is that it has much potential to expand, potential which I hope to realize in the coming weeks and months. Indeed, visitors to the project website will soon be able to find a project whitepaper with more detailed interpretation of the project’s results and promise for the future. Additional updates will focus on expanding my dataset, incorporating, for instance, Canadian treaties to better reflect the reality of how late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Indigenous peoples frequently ventured between the permeable Euro-American borders of the Great Lakes region. Furthermore, there remains room to delve deeper into the treaties already in my dataset, taking Anishinaabe and mixed ancestry individuals eligible for annuity payments and similar concessions into greater account.

To learn about further developments relating to Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties (or my other work), follow me on Twitter @MJJAlbani.