Mapping the Upper Missouri: Visualization Negotiation, Diplomacy and Culture on the the Northern Plains, 1801-1853

Mapping the Upper Missouri is a geospatial history of the fur trade, intercultural exchange, and diplomacy in the upper Missouri River region from 1801 to 1853. This project emphasizes sources of visual culture— maps, art, and print—to illustrate differing perceptions and historical experiences in the upper Missouri at its peak of the fur trade. Upper Missouri Indigenous communities were not only participants, but often determined the conduct and expectations of the trade. The growth of U.S. fur companies in the first half of the nineteenth century coincided with a fundamental transformation in the trade’s objectives: from exchange towards ownership of the land. Trading posts ultimately became sites of administration as the U.S. federal government tapped into the system of trust traders had built with Indigenous partners while also recruiting traders as Indian agents. As federal Indian and land policies engulfed the northern plains in a process of national incorporation, Indigenous communities responded strategically in ways that ensured their survival and cultural persistence. 

This project uses two digital methods, Story Mapping and Georectification, to ground sources and narrative within geography. Together, these methods illustrate that time is not always linear and that geography can challenge seemingly neat, chronological histories. Story Mapping is the process of building an interactive “historical tour” of key locations (marked by pins or polygons) that enable the audience to traverse both space and time. Mapping the Upper Missouri begins by placing viewers in the geo-historic context of the upper Missouri and ends with a discussion of the adaptations and continuities of Indigenous spaces. Twelve pins on the map represent location-centered events, items, and people who played a part in conceptualizing the region. To illustrate these points, this project emphasizes sources of visual culture: maps, art, and print, which are immersive and encourage viewers to engage “atypical” historical sources (i.e. non-text documents). As a result, the story map renders a unique experience  of history that can be both educational and pedagogical.

Jen Andrella

2019-2020 CHI Grad Fellow Cohort

PhD Candidate, Department of History