Colonial Archives and Publications: Digital Native American History Is/as Transformative Use

AHA Session 87
Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Hampton Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Joseph Genetin-Pilawa, George Mason University
Jennifer E. Guiliano, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

Session Abstract

Colonial Archives and Publications: Digital Native American History is/as Transformative Use asks the question: how can digital methods transform our use of colonial archives and publications? Presenting three case studies working at the intersection of digital methods and Native American history, this panel looks to explore, articulate, and critique the relationship between the historical record and indigenous experiences in the United States. Weaving together experiences with digital projects and the questions their approaches to Native American and Indigenous Studies introduce for traditional historical scholarship, this three scholar panel will suggest the transformative potential of textual analysis, text reuse, and network analysis for historical discovery and analysis. Peter Carr identifies the potential use of topic modeling latent dirichlet allocation for the analysis of Indian Claims Commission records. He argues that topic modeling allows scholars strip away the legal jargon from the decisions and reflect the cultural changes in language and strategy that tribes undertook. Bryan Rindfleisch deploys mapping software and network analysis visualization tools to track and analyze how Native, European, and African actors interacted with one another at the Silver Bluff plantation in eighteenth-century South Carolina, which also illustrates the continental and transatlantic intersections of these disparate peoples. This project demonstrates that digital humanities technologies are fundamental to exploring and understanding the interactive dimensions of the eighteenth-century. It is hoped that scholars see how digital technologies can work alongside and - more importantly - enhance our interpretations of traditional documentary sources, providing a richer and more nuanced understanding of the past. Joshua Catalano argues that while most textual analysis methods are not applicable to the corpus of US-Native treaties due to its small size, the analytical method of text reuse allows researchers to explore these documents in a new way. Employing this method, he argues that treaty authors frequently borrowed both content and language from previous documents but only rarely did this borrowing occur over long periods of time or across geographic regions. Linked together via the panel comment, Jennifer Guiliano identifies the ways in which digital technologies encourage the reliance on historically problematic colonial archives that obscure Indigenous authority and knowledge. Collectively, the audience for this panel includes scholars of digital history, Native American History, legal historians, and those interested in understanding new methods for disciplinary analysis.
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