Archiving Ohio Valley Ethnohistory
Tell us about the collection, what is it comprised of?
The Great Lakes/Ohio Valley Ethnohistory Collection is an archival collection of primary and secondary resources documenting American Indian land use and occupancy in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley region from the point of European contact forward. This compilation of documents ranging from the year 1600 to 1950 focuses solely on the location of particular Indian groups at particular times. The collection is the evidence produced for and used by the United States Justice Department’s Indian Claims Commission (ICC) in defense against American Indian claims of treaty violations and land disputes that the ICC hoped to settle once and for all. It also contains the transcribed reports of the proceedings, and the final facts and findings of the commission. The collection also includes an overall bibliography of the collection on note cards cataloging the materials assembled and used by the project team. Further, as they discovered specific instances of geographic or ethnographic interest, they jotted it down on notecards. In essence, not only does this in-depth collection have a bibliography, but a broad-spectrum functional index as well.
The collection is valuable for its original purpose of providing evidence for legal disputes of land and treaty violations. However, it is also an incredible resource for anyone researching American Indian or colonial history topics. Researchers might initially find these kinds of sources limited or difficult to work with. Their narrow focus on American Indian land use and occupancy may seem to be of limited value. Additionally, many documents are incomplete. For example, in the Tribal History Documents series one will find documents consisting of 3 pages of a 200-page book, or 1 page of a 5-page letter, which can be maddening when one looks for the next line on another page but the page is not there. Yet the way that the collection was originally assembled provides a roadmap for studying Native history. Partial documents each include a citation to its original source typed at the top of the page. The original project team arranged these documents by tribe and then by date. This means that the citations on a document in a folder representing a certain span of years for a particular tribe points a researcher to most, if not all of the original sources written about that tribe and geographic area at that time.
Imaginative digital strategies are allowing us to highlight the full value of the information contained in the complex relationships within the collection. We need to digitize the land use and occupancy focused materials in the Tribal History Documents Series in their partial form to maintain the integrity of the collection as an artifact. Yet at the same time, we hoped to connect that document to its original source, and also find a way to point the specific items in the indices to their source. After meeting with representatives from Indiana University’s digital libraries, we developed a solution using XML to write an electronic finding aid governed by EAD standards, and linked to a bibliography created in Zotero. Specifically, the finding aid describes each document in the Tribal History Documents Series with the full citation of its original source. A click on the citation reveals the digitized document. At the top of each folder is a link to an online Zotero bibliography created for that particular sub-series. Clicking on the citation within the bibliography takes you to a digitized version of the full source. In addition, on the Zotero bibliography page, tags representing the subjects in the Tribal Indices Series link to their original source. It is this level of broad coverage with specific detail-linking availability that offers an important tool for American Indian and colonial history researchers alike.
How did the collection come into existence and how did it end up at the Glenn A. Black Lab?
Dr. Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin from Indiana University’s Department of History began this project in 1953. Commissioned by the Indians Claims Section of the Land Division of the Department of Justice, the land use and occupancy project focused on documenting Indian tribal activities for particular regions. For the next thirteen years, Wheeler-Voegelin led a staff that included 2 full time administrative employees, 8 researchers, and a part-time cartographer.
Once documents were collected, to meet the requirements of the ICC, they were reproduced as 8.5 x 11 copies. Many documents were copies out of books, but if the document was hand written it was transcribed. If it was originally written in a foreign language, it was translated. They then arranged the documents by tribe and by year. As dockets were scheduled, the ICC would request reports for the contested region along with supporting evidence. The team’s researchers produced these ethnohistorical reports by interpreting historical and ethnographic evidence. The project and this process continued until 1966 when all claims requiring evidence for the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions were settled.
Upon completion the collection was almost lost as no one at Indiana University wanted such a large collection. It was stored in a warehouse on the Indiana University campus until 1971 when Wheeler-Voegelin requested that Harold Kellar, director of the newly opened Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology (GBL), house them in the new facility.
How have you and others organized the collection? What methods have you used?
In 1976, David R. Miller, a graduate student in the Anthropology Department, originally processed and arranged the collection into 8 series. He published the collection’s original finding aid in 1979. Since then, several graduate students and volunteers have performed additional tasks to update the collection as new archival technologies developed.
In 2013, I initiated a preservation project to physically transfer and reprocess thousands of documents into archive-quality containers. For example, we moved 182 linear feet of documents out of the 807 three ring binders and several overfilled file cabinets into archive-quality boxes and folders. After achieving a better understanding of how the collection worked as a system to produce evidence, we rearranged it to better reflect the independent parts that make it a whole.
With future plans of digitizing the collection, Electronic Archival Description (EAD), a set of xml encoding standards developed by the Society of American Archivists, and the Library of Congress was used to govern the structure of the paper finding aid. To create an electronic finding aid and digitize the collection and to be a part of the collective Archives Online at Indiana University, it was necessary to establish an archive repository so we created the Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Archives at Indiana University.
What are the future plans for the collection?
An electronic finding aid is available for the The Great Lakes/Ohio Valley Ethnohistory Collection, 1953-1966 at Archives Online at Indiana University. Currently, we are working with the Citizens Band of the Pottawatomi and the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, who are helping us to fund the cost of digitizing their material and creating the Zotero bibliography. Working to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) acquainted the GBL with these tribes and others. When we shared with them the astonishing extent of the collection, and our desire to digitize it and make it available online despite a lack of funding, their desire to have access to the materials led to their decision to fund the digitization project. Dr. Kelli Mosteller of the Pottawatomi, and Second Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe (2015 IU Summer Repository Research Fellow recipient) are currently research associates with the GBL and advise us on issues of tribal access to materials and cultural sensitivity, as well as conduct and present collaborative research with our staff. The work to provide access to the materials in the GLOVE Collection is important; however, the forging of collaborative relationships with the tribes who once resided in Indiana (land of the Indians) and the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions is our greatest accomplishment.Posted by