A Head Full of Landscapes

View across Lake Clarke on the Lower Susquehanna

Yesterday I fulfilled a desire, harbored for all the years I have been working on the Susquehanna River; and that was to travel as far south as I could to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It took a lot of driving and navigating, but I did it.

This desire was not merely a romantic wish to experience the river from source to bay (which now I have done, albeit not always in a kayak). I was stunned at the changes the river goes through, from its modest beginnings up in Cooperstown; its torments at the hands of the post-industrial towns of Binghamton and Wilkes Barre; its majesty on the North Branch as it winds its way through the mountains, steep wooded ridges rising on both sides and monitored by high soaring eagles; the calmer waters as it joins with the West Branch at Sunbury and provides the motorist on route 15 with a most glorious companion with its wide stretches, and myriad wooded, farmed, and rocky islands, that reminded one Moravian missionary of a city with its avenues and cross streets. And then finally, the transformation of a river into a series of lakes, some over 200 feet deep, formed behind the hydro-electric dams of Safe Harbor, Holtwood and Conowingo.

Standing at Fisherman’s Park on the spillway below the Conowingo Dam.

It is late summer and the river is low. From the main branch down to Wrightsville, the bed rock is visible, jutting up over the surface to make riffles that would please any kayaker and exposing the ledges in the river bed. The water is warm, maybe too warm for the fish to enjoy and thus the eagles hunt elsewhere. But below the last dam, at the spillway of the Conowingo, this wide full river is a trickle, meandering like an afterthought through the rocks. Its banks bustling with anglers and birders, this final stage of the river seems on an August afternoon weary of its 444 mile journey to the sea, almost succumbing to defeat at the hands of human industry. As I looked downriver all that was visible were the final metal bridges crisscrossing the viewscape before you get to the Bay. An ignominious end.

I had  a very pragmatic need to make this journey yesterday.  I am in the final stages of compiling a report for the National Park Service on the Indigenous Cultural Landscape of the Lower Susquehanna. As part of the segment planning process, I am heading up a team of scholars and mappers to make an argument to the NPS for certain landscapes of the Susquehanna to be designated as “evocative of the natural and cultural resources supporting American Indian lifeways and settlement patterns in the early 17th century.” (See http://www.nps.gov/chba/learn/news/indigenous-cultural-landscapes.htm) These landscapes are also important to descendant communities today, and are intended to aid conservation strategies in the Chesapeake and its watershed. This has not been an easy process. As this approach to understanding large landscapes is still in the development stage, it has not always been clear how to describe an “Indigenous Cultural Landscape” without succumbing to the romanticization of an indigenous viewpoint, without projecting the settler culture’s desire for a “edenic” past (to quote my colleague and collaborator, Alf Siewers). And indeed, the displacement and genocide of the Native populations of Pennsylvania means that those descendant people are probably radically dislocated from these landscapes. Unlike Virginia or Maryland or New Jersey, Pennsylvania is one of only two states left in the Union that does not recognize the presence of Native nations in its borders. Thus, the very notion of a Native heritage landscape is thoroughly disrupted. And unlike the PI’s in other Indigenous Cultural Landscape studies (as on the Nanticoke river) I can’t go to the recognized American Indian nations and ask, “What does this place mean to you?” because they are elsewhere.

The vast amount of work that has been completed by my colleagues and our students on the history and culture of the Susquehanna River under the umbrella of the “Stories of the Susquehanna” is crucial to the rebuilding of Native American connections to the landscapes that were left behind. Through outreach to the Haudenosaunee, facilitated by Sid Jamieson, and public history events, such as the North Branch Heritage Kayak sojourns, organized by David Buck of Endless Mountains Outfitters, bonds are being rebuilt between the landscapes of the Susquehanna and the descendants of those people who populated them, hundreds of years ago. And there are those, like Onondago Canoe Club owner, Hickory Edwards, whose mission it is to “reindigenize” the river. Paddling the length of the Susquehanna last year, down to Annapolis and then walking on to Washington DC to the opening of “Nation to Nation” exhibition of treaties at the Museum of the American Indian, Hickory might exemplify a Native view of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes. They are being rediscovered, like a newly revitalized part of the body, awakened after centuries of numbness.

The guidelines for creating an IC11884093_10156008710345531_2436891468245013356_oL make it clear that the importance of landscapes to descendant communities today is central. But my question is, who is the audience or viewer of the landscape? Yesterday, as I paused for a meeting at the Zimmerman Heritage Center on Long Level, I was thrilled to see the progress that had been made there in creating interpretive materials for the passing public.  A stylish jetty on the waterfront has been built, shaded by a sloping roof and lined with benches wide enough to provide work space for me and my computer and my collaborators.  In front of us, a full size replica of Benjamin Latrobe’s glorious survey of the Lower Susquehanna, commissioned by the Pennsylvania State legislature for the “improvement” of the river from Columbia down to the head of the Bay, is displayed, revealing a water viewscape radically different from that which confronts today’s visitors who can read, “Latrobe’s Susquehanna survey represents a rare profile of the physical features of a region just beginning to feel the impact of agricultural and commercial development.”  As true as this is, the view across the river, now a lake, also points us in the direction of Washington Boro, the site of dense Native American settlement and horticulture/agriculture during the timeframe delineated by the requirements of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape initiative.  Benjamin Latrobe’s survey certainly gives the viewer an idea of the radical change in the river thanks to the hydroelectric dams of 20th century energy production, but what it does not tell us is that this was a center of trade, exchange, agriculture and human interaction with the environment for hundreds of years prior to his “clearing” or dynamiting of a channel up the river.  This part of the story is told behind the viewer.  Turn around and climb the escarpment and you will find the “Native Lands County Park”, which at my last visit to this place was just an idea. Now the visitor can learn about the last known village of the Susquehannock Indians that stood on top of this hill (1676-1680) (the Byrd Leibhart site) where once 3,000 people lived in a stockaded four acre village in 16 ninety foot longhouses. The view from this hilltop reveals the wide sky, water and rolling hills of the Piedmont, now punctuated with wind turbines and McMansions. But the sense of this landscape is strong enough to blot out those intrusions of 21st century America (for now).11886143_10156008707160531_781607673786200798_o

Even with the deep knowledge I have of this landscape, its history of human settlement and conflict, its soils, its elevation, its climate, its cultivation, I cannot see it through Native eyes. And I should not. If all that this initiative does is to deepen the settler culture’s understanding of the place on which it stands and builds and dynamites and dams, then I think much will have been achieved. However, within the borders of Pennsylvania’s bastion of historical denial, within this state of willed and legislated amnesia, we are a very long way from reindigenizing our landscapes.

The Importance of Understanding Visual Rhetoric: thoughts on Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis

I am re-posting on my personal site my blog entry for my class site for The Humanities Now!  These are questions that I have been thinking about a lot, and my reading of Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis has really helped to crystallize my ideas.  I am so happy that she will be coming to Bucknell in April of 2015 as part of our Humanities Institute on the Digital Humanities.

Over the last week or so, we have revisited visualization as a technique for interpretation. In our production of networks using Gephi, the process of creating data, preparing it for input into the software, manipulating it once in the software and then interpreting it once entered has been foremost. As we move on to mapping, we will find parallel processes at work: preparing data, entering it, manipulating it, interpreting it. And as we do so, it behooves us to think critically about what we are doing, and what we are not doing.

Johanna Drucker’s intelligent, broad view of visualization as a form of knowledge production offers us many pointers for taking each step on our path to visualization and interpretation with deliberation. The long chapter “Interpreting Visualization–Visualization Interpretation” from her book, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Harvard, 2014) presents us with an overview of forms of visualization primarily since the Renaissance, and it also issues a plea for the development of a greater understanding of the force of visual rhetoric; a plea that is directed especially at humanists, as they enter into a realm of spatialized representation that might appear to belong to the realm of the quantitative over the qualitative.

Visualizations can be either representations or knowledge generators in which the spatialization or arrangement of elements is meaningful. When reading a visualization, Drucker encourages us to use language carefully, employing terms such as “juxtapose”, “hierarchy”, “proximity”. Drucker claims that visualization exploded onto the intellectual scene at the edge of the late Renaissance and beginning of the early Enlightenment, when engraving technologies were able to produce epistemologically stunning diagrams that both described and also produced knowledge. Now with the advent of digital means to manipulate and produce data we can all produce timelines (!) without giving a thought to the revolution in the conceptualization of time and history that (our near neighbor) Joseph Priestley occasioned. So, as we play with Timemapper or Timeglider, Drucker cautions us to become aware of the visual force of such digital generations. “The challenge is to break the literalism of representational strategies and engage with innovations in interpretive and inferential modes that augment human cognition.” (p. 71)

How do we do this? Drucker argues for us to recognize three basic principles of visualization, both as producers and as interpreters: a) the rationalization of a surface; b) the distinction of figure and ground; c) the delimitation of the domain of visual elements so that they function as a relational system.

In her sections on the most prevalent forms of visualization, I find most pertinent to the coming module on mapping her insight that a graphical scheme through which we relate to the phenomenal world structures our experience of it (p. 74). In other words, the mapping of the earth, sky, sea or the measurement of time, that are in themselves complex reifications of schematic knowledge, actually become the way in which we experience that thing. The week is seven days long and the month is 28-31 days long (because of lunar cycles) and thus astronomical tables become the way we structure time. But time isn’t like that; it isn’t linear, especially in the humanities! It contains flashbacks, memories, foreshadowings, relativities (it speeds up when we are nervous, and slows down when we are scared). So we are imposing structures from social and natural sciences onto human experience. Drucker argues that the shape of temporality is a reflection of beliefs and not standard metrics, and therefore asks how do we find a graphical means to inscribe the subjective experience of temporality or the spatial?

For example, digital mapping may give us the ability to georectify a manuscript map onto a coordinate system, but what does this give us? It might show us how accurate a mapmaker was, or was not; it might help us to locate an archaeological site with more probability, but it is ignoring the fact that the manuscript map, drawn perhaps on buckskin, or stone, or vellum is a representation (and a thin one at that) of a traveler’s or observer’s experience that we are then translating into a system of coordinates. What is absent is the story; way-finding depends upon narratives, travel accounts, diaries. We must be aware that maps produce the illusion of isomorphism, but this illusion is based on an elaborate system of abstract schema and concrete reality.

I am most captivated by the section of her chapter that focuses on visualizing uncertainty and interpretive cartography, as this is an area I have thought a lot about in the last five years during which I have been working with GIS. As a software, GIS gives us enormous power to produce knowledge as a generator; through the combinatory power of layers, and base maps, and points, and embedded data tables, GIS has often seduced me with its “deceptive naturalism of maps and bar charts” generated from spreadsheets that I and my students have spent months creating. It strengthens the fiction of observer-independence; the objectivity of the “bird’s eye view”, and, as Drucker so aptly states, “we rush to suspend critical judgment in visualization.” For me, however, and for the students I have worked with, the question of how to represent ambiguity has consumed us; as has also how to make ambiguity the ground of representation. I think here of the brilliant visualizations of Steffany Meredyk, ’14 as she created her interpretive map of the main stem of the Susquehanna River.

Steffany Meredyk's map of the Susquehanna River
Steffany Meredyk’s map of the Susquehanna River

Using the work of Margaret Pearce, Steffany and I talked for long hours about the importance of reinserting the positionality of the observer into the visualizations of the river. Taking her “data” from accounts of massacres in the 1760-80s that occurred on the Susquehanna River, and using graphical means of Adobe Illustrator to represent ambiguity, uncertainty and emotion, I consider Steffany’s work to act as a model for the way in which we can use digital media and methods as humanists. We can, as Drucker observes, “model phenomenological experience; model discourse fields; model narratives and model interpretation.”

Re-indigenizing the River: Hickory Edward’s Epic Quest down the Susquehanna River

Katherine Faull, Bucknell University

View of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River

Kayaking is not just a sport to Hickory Edwards of the Onondaga Nation. It is his way of reviving his nation’s knowledge about its own history and the environment, and also raising public awareness about the ties of the Haudenosaunee to the land. This summer, the coordinator of the Onondaga Kayak and Canoe club decided to retrace the steps and paddle strokes of his forebears by kayaking first from Buffalo, New York along the Tioughioga to the Chenango river to Onondaga on a trip that became known as “The Journey to the Central Fire” to recognize Onondaga’s central position in the “Long House” of the Six Nations. While attending the annual four-day reading of the Haudenosaunee’s “Great Law of Peace” Edwards listened to the words that had been recited so many times about the planting of the Tree of Peace that had brought unity and concord to the then five warring nations of the Iroquois. Seeing that tree in his mind’s eye, Edwards realized that its spreading white roots were actually routes of peace, traditional waterways that spread out from the center of the Haudenosaunee world, waterways that would take him to the sea in whatever direction of the compass he chose to go.

He decided to go south, down the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake Bay and from there on to Washington DC. “We wanted to take our message from the capitol of the Haudenosaunee to the capitol of the US,” he said in a recent interview from his home near Syracuse, NY. And what is that message? “We are still here. The Native people and their trade routes and waterways are not forgotten. We need to remember our language and our lands. We need to re-indigenize the river.” The goal of this epic human-powered journey was the National Museum of the American Indian on the capitol’s Mall where an exhibition opened on September 21, 2014, “Nation to Nation,” that celebrates the historic treaties drawn up between the Native nations and the colonial governments. “The treaties are still valid,” said Edwards “so we decided to go see them.”

capitol and hickory
Edwards carrying the Haudenosaunee flag to the National Museum of the American Indian

Although prepared to paddle over 500 miles alone, Hickory Edwards could not help but attract support from wherever he went. Joined five days into the journey by fellow kayaker, Noah Onheda and supported the whole way down by his parents acting as ground crew, Edwards described the highlights of the trip down the Susquehanna. For example, standing at Indian Rocks just north of Wyalusing, where Handsome Lake, religious leader of the Six Nations in the late 1700s contemplated the spiritual future of his people. Or the petroglyphs at Safe Harbor that represent powerful, ancient things, carved into what looks like a little Turtle Island in the river. “This is what we must do,” said Edwards “relearn the waterways of our peoples to know where these places are.” Following what he called the “white route of peace” south, Edwards claimed they never had one bad night. “The water was good to us all the way down.” Well, except the very last day, when the winds on the Chesapeake Bay picked up and the waves rose so high around the kayaks that Edwards lost sight of his paddling companion Noah for the height of the water. “Maybe the waves didn’t want us on the water that last day,” Edwards mused. Despite the wind and tide and waves, they made it to Sandy Point State Park, just outside Annapolis, Maryland where they were greeted by representatives of the National Park Service, Deanna Beacham and Suzanne Copping, and treated to a meal, big enough to sate any epic paddler’s appetite!

Having not really used their legs for nearly three weeks, walking over 30 miles from Annapolis to Washington DC was no easy feat. But, they did it. Arriving at the nation’s Mall and the NMAI was a historic moment, with the Haudenosaunee flag flying high. “We did it,” he said, “we came from our capital to yours to see the historic treaties.” And they had even brought water from the spring on the Onondaga Nation land to water the tobacco plants in front of the museum.

Edwards and his father and co-paddler, Noah Onheda examine the treaties made from Nation to Nation at the NMAI exhibit that opened September 21, 2014

Now back home for almost the first time this summer, Hickory Edwards is already planning his next big trip. From kayak races on the Onondaga creek, to a Peacemakers’ journey, to joining the Two Row on the Grand River in Canada next summer, Edwards paddles to revitalize our awareness that clean water is important. “The circle of life starts out with the next generation looking up at us from the earth,” he explained. “They grow and live and return to the earth. But there is one constant throughout, and that is water. Waterways are the veins of our Mother Earth.”

And it is along those life-giving waterways that Hickory Edwards will continue his personal quest.

hickory sunset

What’s Your Susquehanna Story?

The Principal Investigators of the Stories of the Susquehanna initiative are pleased to announce the launch of the “crowd sourcing” platform for the river.  As a public humanities project, the Stories of the Susquehanna initiative invites members of the public to submit their Stories of the Susquehanna for possible inclusion. If you have a story about the cultural, historical, or environmental significance of the place where you live in along the Susquehanna River, we’d love to hear from you! What’s your story?

On using ArcMap Collector as a mobile app for SSV

Since its inception, Stories of the Susquehanna has been a collaborative, interdisciplinary Screenshot 2014-05-08 21.41.18digital project that has at its core a geospatial interface. What started out as historical/cultural mapping of the Native American landscapes of the Susquehanna in ArcMap Desktop with maps published in static image format (as discussed in the interviews of me and Emily Bitely) has evolved through the iterations of ESRI’s software development.

About a week ago, one of our Digital Scholarship Coordinators and SSV  project manager, Diane Jakacki pointed to to the fact that ESRI was now publishing apps. photoAt first skeptical, I proceeded to delve further into the Collector app and battled my way through tutorials designed for insurance adjusters gathering data in the field (no, I don’t need fields labeled “Habitable” or “Partially Destroyed”) to create a feature layer that could be added to any map in ArcMap online. This feature layer was supposed to be able to both locate you in the field and allow you to input field data in real time at the same time as giving you access to the rich data associated with points and lines in pop-ups. The new feature layer could also permit the attachment of photos and video.

My co-PI, Alf Siewers and I had been discussing over the last few months how we could best create this kind of mobile interface and had been in long discussions with both Diane and Andy Famiglietti as to how this might happen. This app seemed to me to offer us a ready made way to send our students out into the field to collect data, upload it, and also see it within the context of the historical information that had already been collected.

Add Feature window showing the fields and photo upload option

After some tussling with an outdated version of ArcMap (10.0 vs. 10.2) and successfully navigating our excellent ArcMap Online resources, I was able to author and upload a prototype of a multi-layered interactive map of the Susquehanna watershed that had the mobile features I wanted (well, almost). However, one field caused the app to crash repeatedly and I knew I had to re-author it in Desktop.

Enter my Presidential Fellow, Steffany Meredyk. Today, as almost a final collaborative act after four years of working together, Steffany and I worked out the problem;  now we can test out an interactive crowdsourcing feature layer for online maps of the Susquehanna this weekend on the North Branch Kayaking Sojourn. Whoops of joy were detectable…. but not uploaded…

photo-1The Collector app has a rich potential for data gathering in the field. Whether to record information on bird populations, the state of repair of the rail-trail, tracking  plant coverage, or encouraging crowdsourcing of local history, this is an exciting and versatile digital step forward in our work of bringing the Stories of the Susquehanna alive.

(un)Mapping Networks

How do you represent visually relationships between people and places that are, I have discovered, unmappable. Only in this last week, under the gun of a deadline thrice removed, did I finally realize that this is what I have been trying to do. Still working on a chapter for a book on Pennsylvania’s Babel of the 18th century, I needed to find a way to describe the dynamic and complex way in which not only Native peoples but Moravians, men and women, communicated and travelled in mid-18th century Pennsylvania. This is an important realization as, within the traditional historiography of this period, both Native and Euro women were just elided.  More recently, the focus has turned to Native women in in terms of their agency and mobility. However, what I have been wanting to discuss is how a group of women who were active as missionaries in the Moravian mission field of the 18th century brought with them their expertise from either Europe or the early settlements in New York State and Pennsylvania to effect a translation of culture and knowledge here on the Susquehanna River.

The source materials I have been working with for this chapter are predominantly unpublished, or, if published, reside in 18th century Fraktur imprints. Seemingly straightforward questions, such as birth dates and places, require lengthy investigations of manuscript sources or typed up lists of information taken from the Geburts- und Tauf Register of the Bethlehem communty (also unpublished) or other missions. Spreadsheets of names, dates, places that I have put together over the years have helped in these investigations. And in this quest I was to find out that this accounting of data over the last 25 years would help more than I could have imagined.

I have wanted to map the way in which these women lived and worked (in German I would use the verb “agieren”) in the mid-Atlantic. I wanted to show how their lived lives became an integral part of the warp and weft of the environment of the Pennsylvania backcountry. But to do that I had to also delve into why they were here, what brought them to this place at this time? How did they translate the skills, experiences, concepts of self that had been learned in the Pfalz, Germany, or a village near Oxford, England, or a farm close by the Mohican villages in upstate New York to the banks of the Susquehanna or the Lehigh rivers?

I started to make maps. Firing up my GIS layers, I mapped the missions, I mapped the women, I inserted date ranges. But it still was static. It didn’t show the movements of the women between the missions over time in an effective way (maybe because I am not as skillful at this as my students…) Then, staring at the DH Humanities list from my alma mater King’s College, London, I saw the announcement of palladio in beta out of Stanford. Assuming that this was a happy by-product of the well-known and ground-breaking project “Mapping the Republic of Letters” I decided to “dive in.”

When I first started working on the Moravian women’s memoirs 25 years ago I was surprisingly data driven. I wanted to know who these fascinating and diverse people were. One of the places in Bethlehem that inspired me to work on the Pietist group was the “Gottesacker” with its flat gravestones that are ordered in terms of marital status, age and gender and not by social ranking or racial group. I found the register of the Gottesacker and built a database of all the women who were buried there, found information about their birthplace, dates, brief biographies. When I looked at how data was supposed to be entered into Palladio, I thought this would be a good first project. With the help of my research assistant, Hein Thun, we entered all the exact locations of birth and death in longitude and latitude and then I entered this into the online program. What came out was good. A mapping of places from which the Bethlehem women came in the 18th century, both in terms of a geo-location and also a very basic visualization.

first visualization of Moravian women's birth places
First visualization in Palladio of Moravian women’s birth places
initial mapping of Moravian women's birth places
Initial Palladio mapping of Moravian women’s birth places

Having had some success with this visualization I wanted to try it with the missions and missionary women. But I couldn’t get it to show what I wanted. I was still too hung up on mappy maps.





It wasn’t until I talked to Andy Famiglietti, one of the Digital Scholarship co-ordinators at Bucknell, that I realized that I had to think of maps that weren’t maps. I had to remove the “geo” from my spatial thinking to visualize these relationships. This was not easy for me; really, really not easy. I had tried working with Gephi before, but it was only once Andy explained to me the fundamental rule of thinking about networks as relationships between two entities (not three, not four) that I understood why my attempts to date had failed. So, modifying the data, stripping it down to the “edges” of people and places, we were able to visualize what I had been looking for and trying to express in my chapter.

Screenshot 2014-04-02 15.15.16
Gephi produced network analysis of relations between Moravian women missionaries in the mid-Atlantic

It was truly a “eureka” moment. Yes, it is not the most elegant, or beautifully rendered visualization. But it showed what I wanted it to show, the strength of relationships between these women and their places of agency.



Curious to see how Palladio might represent this same data I fiddled around that night and came up with another, different, visualization of these people and places.


palladio visualization article
Using Palladio to visualize relations between Moravian women and mission place

Again, it is not beautiful and I have not fully explored the capacities of Palladio, but it is a beginning. A beginning of mapping without maps, of being able to render visible what has been invisible to date, namely, the strong network of women’s lives in the history of this place.


On using GIS to uncover the ‘Stories of the Susquehanna’

Back in 2011, Janine Glathar interviewed me and Emily Bitely ’11 on the ways in which we had used GIS to begin mapping the Stories of the Susquehanna. These originally appeared on the Bucknell GIS blog.

Emily’s work was central to gaining the National Historic Trail designation from the National Park Service.

  • To learn more about the John Smith Trail, click here.
  • To view more  Captain John Smith’s voyage, click here.
  • To view a map of interpretive ‘smart’ buoys located in the river, click here.