Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties

Michael J. Albani

2020-2021 CHI Grad Fellow Cohort
PhD Candidate, Department of History

During the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, treaty negotiations served as critical sites of contact between Anishinaabeg – members of the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples – and Americans across the Great Lakes. While the United States government attempted to exert complete control over all the territory it claimed on paper, the Great Lakes region’s Indigenous inhabitants strived to uphold sovereignty within their Homelands. Over the course of several decades, many Anishinaabe and American individuals emerged as diplomats at multiple treaty negotiations that collectively reshaped how both Native and Euro-Americans resided upon and interacted with Lands around them. Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties is a digital cultural heritage project designed to illustrate links between individuals who repeatedly presented themselves as representatives for their communities and nations. Although the late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Great Lakes region may have been geographically vast, connections weaved through recurring diplomatic entanglements rendered it socially close-knit while at the same time replete with relational complexities that deserve greater scholastic scrutiny.

Central to Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties is an interactive visualization created with Gephi, an open source piece of graphing and network analysis software. The visualization displays connections between approximately 1,600 Anishinaabe and American signers of 24 treaties beginning with the Treaty of Greenville (1795) and ending with the Treaty of Detroit (1855). Data for the visualization was extracted from digital copies of each treaty, and cleaned using OpenRefine, an open source data wrangling tool. Furthermore, the cleaned dataset is posted on the project website where visitors can leave comments or critiques to bolster the visualization’s accuracy.

By unraveling the relationships in which many Anishinaabe and American individuals became entwined amid late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century treaty negotiations, this digital cultural heritage project seeks to contribute to an expanding body of scholarship exploring the contentious processes of state formation in the Old Northwest. Therefore, both the visualization and project website will grow over time. The next phase of development for Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties will focus on bolstering the existing dataset. It will incorporate Canadian source material, as the permeability of Euro-American borders led Anishinaabeg who crossed between these imaginary lines into diplomatic disputes with both the United States and Canadian governments. Subsequent updates will delve even deeper into surviving documentation to integrate peoples of mixed Native and Euro-American ancestry who became eligible for annuities under late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century compacts into broader social network analysis.