Digital Project Proposal: StoryMap-ing Young George Washington

In the most generally known narrative of American history, George Washington appears on the stage of world events fully formed. Washington strides into history as the tall, dignified adult who assumes command of the Continental Army and directs the victorious war for American independence. This same imposing figure then guides the newly launched state of ship safely through its first years of operation as President, before relinquishing power in the ultimate gesture of republican virtue and retiring to Mount Vernon. With the exception of the story of the cherry tree, perhaps now more famous as a tall tale than as historical truth, Washington’s youth is essentially nonexistent. The Father of the Country is always that, the older, mature figure in the room – never the young son.

But decades before Washington showed up to the Continental Congress to take the offered position as military leader of the fight against the British empire, his early 20s were spent acting as an agent of that same empire. In 1753, when he was only 21, Washington embarked on a harrowing frontier journey to attempt to force a diplomatic resolution to a long-running dispute between Britain and France over the poorly mapped, sparsely settled Ohio River Valley. A year later, at age 22, Washington was a colonel of militia charged with forcibly evicting the French from a fort at the site of modern-day Pittsburgh – a mission which sparked a world war and created the conditions that would spark the American Revolution two decades later. Washington’s younger years are little known to the general public, despite their fantastic and adventure-filled nature.

For my digital project, I propose to bring those adventures to life in a digital visual medium. Specifically, I would use the StoryMap program developed by Northwestern University Knight Lab. StoryMap allows users to create narratives using location, images, and movement. By using points dropped onto a map in a certain order, a StoryMap moves a viewer through the story spatially, not just temporally. Each point contains both text and images, providing snapshots of connected moments in history.

I would propose to use StoryMap to retrace Washington’s early 20s on the colonial frontier, specifically immediately prior to and during the French and Indian War. This would move viewers through portions of modern-day Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, as Washington traveled on land and water across a space where imperial ambition, colonial expansion, and Native American relations collided to form a crucible of massive historic significance. In this project I will be able to draw on my previous experience using StoryMap, but deliver a better-quality project by using the practices we have been discussing in class. I will also be able to draw on my knowledge of the time period, which is my historical focus. The end result will be an easily accessible and understandable digital presentation that will help more people learn about the incredible story of Young George Washington.

One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal: StoryMap-ing Young George Washington”

  1. This is a great topic. One likely to be of broad potential interest to various audiences and something that I think clearly lends it self to mapping. So I think you’ve got great content and that you have a solid subject. It also sounds like something that can work well with the particular tool you’ve identified.

    What it would be great to know more about is your audience and what success looks like. That is, you could make something like this as a resource for teachers, or as a tool for scholars, or as something that might be more of a project for a broader general audience. My sense, given what you’ve laid out, is that the best fit is probably K-12 teachers. It’s really hard to make something that can break through to general audiences and it’s really tough to make a contribution to scholarship for experts on someone as well covered as Washington. In contrast, with Washington you have a likely potential hook to a range of curricular topics, and if you created a useful and usable resource, you could get it out and reviewed in a range of places that share and promote free resources to k-12 teachers.

    If you do go with teachers as your audience, it would be great to think about how to tailor it to their needs. That might involve creating some lesson plans and doing some leg work to try and get things like the reading level and the extent of the content to be a good fit for where in various educational standards would be likely to cover something like this. Your best bet there would be to try and find a k-12 history teacher or to two that you could talk through the idea and then run past drafts of what you are working on. That would then also help you get some feedback cycles and create a built in mechanism for some lightweight evaluation.

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