Mapping a Slave Revolt: Digital Tools and the Historianís Craft

Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:00 PM
Conference Room E (Sheraton New York)
Vincent Brown, Harvard University
Digital scholarship can encourage interdisciplinary and innovative historical scholarship, work that challenges the boundaries of methodology and historiography. I have pursued this challenge by mapping the history of the greatest slave revolt in the eighteenth-century British Empire. Slave Revolt in Jamaica: A Cartographic Narrative (http://revolt.axismaps.com) interprets the spatial history of the Jamaican revolt, breaking its movement down into the networks and circuits that defined its progress. To teachers and researchers, the presentation offers a carefully curated archive of key documentary evidence. To all viewers, the map suggests an argument about the strategies of the rebels and the tactics of counterinsurgency, about the importance of the landscape to the course of the uprising, and about the difficulty of representing such events cartographically with available sources.  Mapping the insurrection has powerfully reminded me that the archive is not only the records bequeathed to us by the past, it is also the tools we use to explore it, the vision that allows us to see its traces, and the design decisions that communicate our sense of history’s possibilities. Historians can exploit the potential of digital tools to craft scholarly designs that appreciate the interdependency of interpretive knowledge and aesthetic expression. In this way, I think we may produce enlightening syntheses of quantitative approaches in social science, the interpretive bent of the humanities, and the creative wonders of the arts.
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