We learn by doing.


Inspired by last week’s analysis, I spent this week turning abstraction into concretion through the development of my very own geospatial history project: a journey through 18th century Detroit. Having finished reading Calvin Schermerhorn’s Unrequited Toil, I must credit Tiya Miles’ The Dawn of Detroit and “Mapping Slavery in Detroit” as the inspiration for my creation; having narrowed the scope from our investigation of institutional slavery in the United States as a whole to its often-forgotten role in the development of Detroit in HST 251, I found the story of early Detroit to be more and more fascinating as I dove deeper and deeper into its depths while assembling the visualization embedded below.

While my project focuses on Detroit’s early history in a more holistic sense, diving less into the role of slavery and instead into the critical events within its first 100 years of existence, I tried to turn all I’d learned from looking at Knowles’ “A Cutting-Edge Second Look at the Battle of Gettysburg” last week into actionable working knowledge, succeeding in some regards while falling short in others. On one hand, working with StoryMapJS, I was constrained to linear-time narration, non-rectified modern maps, and other limiting technological structure which doomed me to fall victim to some of the same flaws as those of Knowles’ project; on the other hand, I feel a great sense of pride for the work I’ve put into my visualization, having modeled it to match the strengths of Knowles’ project.

Regardless of the outcome, I can say without a doubt that being involved in the active process of creating a geospatial historical account has raised my level of appreciation and respect for those who do such work for a living; to wind together a cohesive thread which spans space and time in the process of tracking a historical development is no trivial task, even with today’s sophisticated visualization tools. At the same time, such arduous work does wonders when it comes to growing one’s understanding of the mechanisms which make history function—as Aristotle said, “we learn by doing.”

As such, I encourage you to try your hand at creating a geospatial account of some historical event with StoryMapJS, StoryMap.org, ESRI StoryMap, or another tool; I guarantee that you’ll find the process quenching if you’re thirsty to learn.

Be sure to check out my creation and leave your feedback first, though!

[Full-screen version here]