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A Visual Experiment

The map on this website is not an ordinary map referring exclusively to grand colonial narratives of either locations, or the normative scales used in historical geographical mapping. Quite the contrary, the Danish colonial traces are visually presented in a parallel spatiality of two windows, a space in progress, not offering a chronological order of events, but foregrounding the interconnection of places, people and themes across Denmark and the USVI.

The project is also a collaborative effort that encompasses multiple data contributors from different parts of the world providing entries about places, people, and material from a broad range of map and photo collections and archives, ie. the Library of Congress and the Royal Library. By including these many voices (and more to come) we hope that we can facilitate a multilayered and multi-temporal reflexive approach to the places we live and inhabit today. We are of course aware that no archive is neutral and this is no exception. The map also carries the traces of our own interaction with the archival material and the people with whom we are in contact, excluding other voices.

Prototyping and Counter-mapping

In many ways this project was always already a failed project. As the grid system of St. Croix clearly demonstrates, the map is also a colonial way of seeing and inhabiting space. And our own biases produce blind spots on the map that we perhaps are not even aware of. The stories presented on this map express only partial views, fragments of stories, with no intention of claiming objectivity. Instead they attest to the complexity of daily life and of writing history. They are, rather, expressions directly related to our situated interaction with the historic and archival material at our disposal, here and now. However, taking failure as a productive process, it is our hope that we can glean meaningful conversations from the project about the inherent difficulties of working with contested digital archival material such as this.

Taking center stage, then, is the unfolding relations between people and places collapsed in time, in an experiment of prototyping and counter-mapping. This prototyping works with some inbuilt assumptions, that history is still working in the present and is shaped by our continuous engagement with it. Moreover, that there is an inbuilt political choice in seeking to counteract the dominant form of present-day accounts of the Danish engagement with the USVI as ‘a thing of the past’. As such we are inspired by the critical engagements with the newly digitized material from the Danish West Indies, most notably those of Temi Odumosu, Katrine Dirkinck-Holmfeldt, Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer, Mathias Danbolt and others.

Incentives and Involvement

Mapping a Colony is first and foremost a digital humanities project, funded by Europeana, consisting of an ongoing exploration of the traces, influences and consequences of Danish slavery and colonial cultural memory. The project is collaborative in form by bringing together contributions from people living in the USVI, Denmark and elsewhere, representing various knowledge fields.

By curating data from various sources and presenting it through an alternative digital mapping, or counter-mapping, we hope that the project will help shed light on the Danish-USVI colonial past and bring forward yet undiscovered links and voices from past and present, history and memory, culture and economy. This kind of prototyping also serves educational purposes in relation to ethical ways of analyzing, mapping, visualizing and designing digital interactions with archival material.

The incentive of the project is to discuss the cultural and ethical potential of archival use and reuse. As Katrine Dirkinck-Holmfeldt points out, while mass digitization of archival records opens up for circulation and distribution of digital images and archival records, they also give rise to new ethical, political and methodological questions concerning the re-use of such material. The work process of this project confirms the need for ongoing discussions of these questions.

Follow our work by signing up for notifications on new blog entries and events, and read more about the people behind the project here.

  • Explore the Map by clicking on various points of interest.
  • Let us guide you through connected stories via the Narratives.
  • The Gallery takes you on a virtual tour of the past. We would like to encourage our visitors to help us place the photos accurately on the map, and to help identify people and places in them.
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