Today I set out on a week-long trip that will take me to familiar places to meet lots of people doing new things with old stuff. In many ways, I have been doing new things with old stuff for a while. Working with manuscript materials all my academic career, I have always wanted to find ways to make what had been stored away in acid free boxes on shelves in archives more accessible to the public. And print publishing has not always been the answer. For example, no-one was interested in publishing a parallel dual language text of the memoirs back in the 90s, and so I tried on-line publishing (see the Moravian Women’s Memoirs experiment that I started back in the days of HTML in the late 1990s). More recently, I have been able to discuss and publish the 18th century maps of the Susquehanna River I have found in archives in both print media (the Journal of Moravian History and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography) and also through some of the online work I have been doing with students on the river. To accomplish the latter, we are in the process of building an “atlas” of the river that will include its historical and critical cartography (the subject of Steffany Meredyk’s Honors thesis, for example).
Over the last three and half years, I have been working with Steffany Meredyk, Class of 2014, on the Cultures at the Confluence project. What started out as a mainly textually based project to transcribe and translate the Moravian mission diaries from Shamokin, Pa has turned into a far more complex and rewarding investigation into the limits and challenges associated with spatial representation in historical narratives. In our collaboration, Steffany and I have grappled with the question of how to represent cartographically the lived experience of those who traversed the Susquehanna Country in the mid-18th century. While I was working on creating the textual edition of the diaries, Steffany started taking courses on GIS. One of the first maps she produced, in a class with Prof. Duane Griffin, shows her early engagement with critical GIS, following the models presented by Margaret Pearce in her work on indigenous mapping. Steffany drew on archival materials to embed the observations of Sullivan’s troops into the map she drew to depict the advance of the campaign to eradicate the Iroquois along the North Branch of the Susquehanna River in 1779. As she writes: “During the American Revolutionary conflict, the Iroquois Indians gave divided military support to American colonists and the British loyalists. As a result General George Washington ordered General John Sullivan in May 1779 to invade Iroquois Country, destroy Indian villages, and burn all food crops or potential resources for Indian war parties or communities. Sullivan’s troops destroyed nearly 60 Indian villages from June through October 1779. Behind him, he left not only a path of physical destruction but also a decimation of Native American communities and cultural systems that can be argued to be systematic genocide… “This map represents where Sullivan’s main army marched and the villages and places that it decimated in the summer of 1779. The troops began their march in Easton, Pennsylvania and follow the North Branch of the Susquehanna River up to the Finger Lakes area in present-day New York. Journal entries of military officers in Sullivan’s army embedded along the war path tell narratives of the journey and shed light on the perspectives of the men during the American Revolutionary Era. Through the journal entries, of Sullivan’s warpath, and the inclusion of quotations, this map provides insight into the great devastation of Iroquois country and the minds of the men who ravaged it.”
In the summer of 2012, supported by funds from the Chesapeake Conservancy, Steffany and another student, Bethany Dunn ’14 worked on a mapping project on the main stem of the Susquehanna River between Harrisburg and Sunbury. This project was far more ambitious: to map the river not as a continuous geographical feature but rather as a segmented and complex corridor of fear. The mid-eighteenth century saw the multiple murders of both Indians and settlers along the river, the most notorious of these being the Paxton Boys massacre of the Susquehannock Indians at Conestoga and the Frederick Stump murders on Middle Creek. Steffany set out to represent the increasingly racialized politics of the Pennsylvania Backcountry, again drawing on manuscript maps, archival materials, journals, letters, and broadsheets to map the complexity of human experience. This draft is currently the subject of Steffany’s Honors thesis in Geography at Bucknell University.
In October 2011, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa to deliver the Moses Lectures. The topic was the Moravian practice of the Speakings, monthly conversations that each member of the church had with the Choir Helper (spiritual leader) of the group or Choir to which he or she belonged. Ones membership in a choir was determined by marital status, gender, and age. In my earlier post I talked about how one reaches the point of being able to write an authentic memoir. In the 18th century, the Moravian Church prepared each member of the Church for such self-writing through this system of the Speakings. The lectures are divided into two parts. Part One focuses on the history of the Speakings; Part Two focuses on the Instructions (1786) that describe how to conduct the Speakings. I have transcribed and translated the Instructions and am preparing to publish them in the series “Pietist and Anabaptist Studies” from Pennsylvania State University Press. This work was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The text of these lectures was published in “The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church,” vol. 18, No. 2: Spring 2012.
At the Howland Preserve meeting on Thursday, Dave Buck reminded me of the question he posed back in 2006 at the first River Symposium. I had just given a short paper on “Europeans and the Susquehanna River” that quoted the opening lines of a poem by the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Nicht am Susquehanna, der durch Wüsten fließt.” At the time, I had just begun my work on the Shamokin Diaries and was immersing myself in the world of the Moravian missions in Pennsylvania. He asked if I had ever heard of “Friedenshütten,” a mission on the North Branch near Wyalusing. I replied that I had but was not that familiar with it. Dave, in his usual dogged fashion, pursued me after the session and explained where the mission was supposed to have been and that it was linked to one slightly further up the North Branch, Sheshequin. And so my curiosity was piqued. Continue reading “More than a point on a map…”
Over the last five years, my work in the archives of the Moravian Church in the USA and also Germany, has focused on the Moravian mission to the Native Americans in Pennsylvania during the 18th century. The primary focus has been on the Moravian mission at Shamokin, Pa (now Sunbury), which sits at the confluence of the North and West branches of the river and which, in the contact period, was known as the “capital of the Woodland Indians”. Continue reading “Visualizing Connections…”
Another trip upriver to a beautiful spot on the North Branch, the Howland Preserve on the Vosburg Neck, just north of Tunkhannock, where Alf Siewers and I met with a great group of people interested in joining us in telling the story of the river. Ably led by Dave Buck of Endless Mountain Outfitters, the agenda was clear. Let’s get moving! Continue reading “A Meeting at the Howland Preserve: or, Moonrise over Mile Marker 223.5”
Yesterday I made my way up roads that were once Indian paths to one of my favorite places in North East Pennsylvania, Tunkhannock (click for ppt presentation). The invitation to speak on the cultural history of Tunkhannock and its place on the Susquehanna River came from Margie Young, Program Coordinator of the Wyoming County Cultural Center/Dietrich Theater and was supported by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.