Risks in Representing a West African City: Mapping 19th-Century Lagos

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM
Palladian Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Ademide J. Adelusi-Adeluyi, University of California, Riverside
In reconstructing the ways that coastal Africans imagined, manipulated and represented their lived spaces—their cities, towns and villages—in the nineteenth century, tools developed under the rubric of Digital Humanities help advance the analysis and interpretation of visual and textual sources. My presentation demonstrates how tools like ArcGIS and Adobe Illustrator can be used to explore the effects of the British bombardment of Lagos in 1851, looking in particular at how these tools, when paired with historical narrative, can shed light on an episode often understood as a simple matter of imperial aggression, a clear cut example of “gunboat imperialism.”

Rather, I look at the ways that the maps, travel narratives and surveys produced in the dual arts of conquest and cartography bring new insight into understanding the morphology of an African city. For historians of Africa, the excitement and possibilities triggered by using tools like ArcGIS is tempered by the questions of sources—how to re-interpret them, how to assemble them, and how to deal with the ever present questions of mediation and the masking of local agency. How does spatial analysis move us beyond well worn schemes that plot power along specific axes of race, space and technology? How can we use sources without re-inscribing old ways of seeing the world? How useful are these data-hungry tools in circumstances where empirical data is uneven or sparse? My paper addresses these and other challenges faced with decolonizing the tools of the Digital Humanities.

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