Petition of Esther Anthony

Editors’ Choice: Authorship and Advocacy – The Native American Petitions Dataverse

Embedded in the (digital) archive are structures of power. The Native American Petitions Dataverse shifts those structures by attributing authorship to tribal and Native individuals in hundreds of colonial and early American era petitions and memorials. However, is attributing authorship the sole responsibility of those curating digital collections? And even more simply, how does one acknowledge Indigenous authorship in the colonial and early American archive? Jane Anderson addresses this in part by saying “wherein colonialism is understood as a cultural project of control, archives function as the locus for the cultural technology of rule” (234). A “decolonial” project, then, would be would offer counter-narratives to the dominant methods of organizing, the hierarchy of archival sources, and the voices represented in the colonial archive.

By that definition, the digital structure and content of The Native American Petitions Dataverse provide a key example of gesturing towards a decolonial project. The eighteenth and nineteenth-century petition is critical to understanding the engagement of people of color with political institutions and individuals. Much like colonial-era church attendance logs can be used to understand religiosity, petitions (and their signatures) offer a way into the areas of tension between legislators and those frustrated with legislation in the early years of the Republic. For many people excluded from suffrage, petitioning provided an almost direct line to governing bodies. Native people, in particular, used petitioning intra-tribally and externally. In the northeast, Native peoples appealed to legislative bodies for equality long before petitioning’s popularization in the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Collective and individual petitioning efforts are essential to nuanced tellings of Native histories, and therefore, an important area of focus for digital humanists.

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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Brandan Buck based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: