Can I Get a Witness? Networking Nebraska Homesteaders in Research and Teaching

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Marquette Room (Hilton Chicago)
Rebecca Wingo, University of Cincinnati
In her recent co-authored manuscript, Homesteading the Plains, Wingo used newly digitized records for homesteaders in ten townships over two Nebraska counties to visualize the socio-legal homesteader networks. After 1879, every homesteader was required to list in a “proof of posting” four local residents who could positively testify on their behalf that the claimant was a bona fide homesteader. Many of those witnesses were also homesteaders themselves. Network analysis of these known connections indicates the prevalence of fraud (spoiler alert: it’s not as much as previous scholars have led us to believe) and accentuates both incidental and intentional ethnic community formation. Geolocating the networks further reveals patterns of witnessing that demonstrate the function neighborhoods and local leadership in the rural west. Wingo has developed an entire course around data visualization and the Homestead Act, and her students have continued to advance homesteading scholarship with digital methodologies.