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Preserving native history with geospatial technologies

NSF Award:

Phase VI: Climate Change and Energy: Basic Science, Impacts, and Mitigation  (University of Kansas Center for Research Inc)

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Indigenous perspective is often overlooked by scholars documenting and analyzing historical geographies of native communities. This often leads to incomplete interpretation and misrepresentation of indigenous historical landscapes.

However, Deborah Kirk, a graduate student at the University of Kansas and a member of the Cherokee Nation, is modeling the historical geographies of her people using both geographic information systems (GIS) and interactive mapping. Her project is helping preserve the historical knowledge of the Cherokee homeland by generating an interactive map for educational, historical and cultural purposes by the Cherokee people and the general public.

Kirk's research will contribute critical historical documentation and analyses of the Cherokee people through accessible tools to educate tribal citizens on their ancestral homeland. It also impacts the GIS community because it illustrates a cultural application of the tool.

To build the knowledge base for the map, Kirk is using recently discovered field notes and maps of ethnographer James Mooney (1887-1916), the historical writings of Cherokee elders, oral tradition and Cherokee living memory. 

The interactive map is supported by the Kansas Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCOR).


  • researcher with some of the tools and materials used in her work
Deborah Kirk shown with some of the tools and materials used in her research.
Deborah Kirk, University of Kansas

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