Michael J. Albani (He/Him/His) is a PhD Candidate at Michigan State University who holds an MA in History from Loyola University Chicago and a BA in History and English from Albion College. His research focuses on the late eighteenth and nineteenth-century Great Lakes region, and his dissertation centers on Anishinaabe women and their children of mixed ancestry at Michilimackinac. Situated around the straits separating Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, the Anishinaabeg considered Michilimackinac a preeminent gathering place prior to European contact. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it evolved into a fur trading nexus where navigating aboriginal kinship networks that could link individuals of diverse national origins to bonds of mutual obligation was essential to gaining and maintaining influence. By forging kinship connections with Euro-American men, Indigenous women could amass authority as cross-cultural intermediaries.
Michilimackinac was an undeniably contested region during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as French, British, and American imperial forces grappled with local Anishinaabe and each other for dominance. However, many scholars assert that 1815 initiated a period of unyielding decline for the Anishinaabeg in which their homelands fell under the absolute dominion of the United States. Albani argues, in contrast, that Michilimackinac remained a contested borderland throughout the nineteenth century. Its peripheral position – far removed from most Euro-American geopolitical centers – and heterogeneous nature allowed Indigenous women based there to maintain their sovereignty. They could, therefore, resist removal, complicating the already contentious process of American state formation that characterized the Old Northwest.
Intertwined with the process of state formation were American efforts to codify Native Americans as racialized “others.” Albani’s dissertation further explores how the mixed ancestry children of Michilimackinac’s cross-cultural intermediaries responded to the racial categories imposed upon them throughout the nineteenth century. He contends that by either outwardly embracing their aboriginal identities or presenting themselves as white, they were able to exert agency and augment their authority around Michilimackinac and beyond. Thus, Albani’s research contributes to both a richer understanding of the processes of nineteenth-century American state formation as well as their influences on the racialization of Indigenous peoples.
While working on his dissertation, Albani is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities, and he has been selected as a 2020-2021 Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellow. Digital projects he has worked on include Sects Ed, a religious history podcast about unorthodox faiths that he began producing and co-hosting in 2017. Additionally, he helped design Skin Deep, a website hosted by MSU’s Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR). It has published scholarship by emerging historians engaging with contemporary issues surrounding immigration, race, and identity. Before enrolling at MSU, Albani coordinated the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project, a digital humanities project exploring the intellectual history of nineteenth-century Jesuits in the American Midwest.
Professional organizations Albani belongs to include the American Historical Association, American Society for Ethnohistory, Historical Society of Michigan, Midwestern History Association, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, Organization of American Historians, and Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. His research is being generously supported by the American Philosophical Society and the Newberry Library.