A Visual Experiment
By undertaking a counter-mapping, we are contesting historical and geographical maps that bear the imprint of grand colonial narratives. As an evolving working platform, this site does not offer a chronological order of events, but instead foregrounds the interconnection of places, people and themes across and between Denmark and the USVI.
The project is also a collaborative effort that encompasses multiple data contributors from different parts of the world who have provided entries about places, people, and material from a broad range of archives, i.e. the Library of Congress and the Royal Library. By including these many voices (and more to come) we hope that we can facilitate a multi-layered 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.
Prototyping and Counter-mapping
In many ways this project was always already a failed one. As the gridded town plan of St. Croix (USVI) clearly demonstrates, the map is also a colonial way of seeing and inhabiting space. And our own biases, even those of which we are unaware, produce blind spots on the map. The stories presented on this map express partial views, fragments of stories, with no intention of claiming objectivity. Instead they attest to the complexity of daily life and of historicizing. 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, are the unfolding relations between people and places across 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 Danish accounts that claim engagement with the USVI is ‘a thing of the past.’ As such we are inspired by scholars who critically engage with newly-digitized material from the Danish West Indies, most notably: 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, which consists of an ongoing exploration of the traces, influences and consequences of Danish slavery and colonial cultural memory. The project is collaborative in form because it brings 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, we hope that the project will help shed light on the Danish-USVI colonial past and bring forward yet undiscovered links and voices from the past and present, history and memory, culture and economy. We hope our work also serves educational purposes with regard to framing the ethics of analyzing, mapping, visualizing and designing digital interactions with archival material.
The project’s incentive is to discuss the cultural and ethical potential of archival use and reuse. While mass digitization opens up the circulation and distribution of digital images and archival records, it also gives rise to new ethical, political and methodological questions concerning the re-use of such material. The project’s production process confirms a need for ongoing discussion of these questions.
Follow our work and events on the blog and read more about the people behind the project here.