Creative historical scholarship demonstrates that archives are not just the records bequeathed by earlier times. Archives also consist of the tools we use to explore the past, the vision that allows us to read its signs, and the design decisions that communicate our sense of history's possibilities. The online project Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760–1761, which interprets the spatial history of the greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth-century British Empire, offers a telling example. The map suggests an argument about the strategies of the rebels and the tactics of counterinsurgency and about the importance of the landscape to the course of the uprising. No less important, the project highlights the difficulty of representing such events cartographically with available sources. Maintaining historians' traditional emphasis on primary sources, attention to change over time, historiographical awareness, and an overarching respect for evidence-based claims, scholars may admit more experimental forms of research and presentation without compromising the veracity of historical study. Yet such a shift will require a deeper exploration of the relation between aesthetic expression and knowledge.
1 December 2015
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Vincent Brown; Mapping a Slave Revolt: Visualizing Spatial History through the Archives of Slavery. Social Text 1 December 2015; 33 (4 (125)): 134–141. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-3315826
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