Thinking about Space in the Archive: Reflections on Teaching with Neatline

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 2:50 PM
Regency Ballroom VI (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Ansley Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
Over the past two academic years I have taught a series of courses for masters- and doctoral-level students that combine a focus on the rich local history of Harlem and an introduction to selected digital tools for presenting historical material and analysis. One of the themes that runs through these courses is an attention to space and location. In beginning to design these courses, I hoped that the shared geographic space of our inquiry – and the ability to visualize how aspects of the historical record sat next to one another in this shared space –would prompt richer conversation across students working on different topics yet all within the same geographic context. In the process of working with students over three (and soon four) semesters, I’ve come to appreciate the challenges, often very generative ones, that come with each stage of thinking about archival material in spatial terms. In ways that I had not anticipated, I have learned the extent to which the medium in which students imagine sharing their research affects the ways in which they approach their sources  Knowing that Neatline maps offer one possible way to present their work, they attend differently to spatial information both in archival and in oral history interviews, and they value aspects of the historical record that might otherwise have gone neglected. In a course that draws students from social-studies teacher education programs as well as in history, the different values students attach to this work from their varied perspectives are especially useful to consider. Through a discussion of the nature of this teaching experience and student reflections on it, I hope to prompt a discussion about both the pragmatic and principled or theoretical concerns involved in thinking about space in the archive and displaying historical learning in connection with spatial representations.