Print Project Proposal: Mapping Racial Violence

How can digital media be used to convey and represent histories of racial violence in the United States? How do visual digital representations of these legacies of violent acts, especially those using mapping programs, affect public knowledge and understanding of these events? To better understand these questions and I more, I propose analyzing the EJI’s Lynching in America and “Mapping Violence.”

EJI’s Lynching in America project focuses on the history of lynchings of African Americans across the United States. The website features interviews with people whose families were affected by lynching, a film about a family’s journey to process the lynching of an ancestor, an interactive map, a report on lynchings, and a call to join EJI in the organization’s efforts working for racial justice.

“Mapping Violence” has a more narrow focus on Texas and on recovering acts of racial violence committed against Mexicans in Texas between 1900 and 1930. According to the overview sections of the website, the “Mapping Violence” team plans to continue to include instances of “racially-motivated violence” and to expand the ways in which visitors can interact with the content. The expressed intended audience includes researchers, K-12 and university educators. This website appears to have fewer resources behind it and is in the process of being built out. In addition to the map, the website features an overview and some background about the research the team is engaging in.

To understand the aims of each website, I would look at what information about the racially-motivated violence is included and how the incidents are represented. I would aim to understand the intended audiences of each website by analyzing the descriptions of the projects provided on their respective websites. To evaluate the extent to which their goals are achieved, I would consider the potential benefits and challenges of using digital media for humanities that Cohen and Rosenzweig discuss in Digital History.

Most relevant, I think, of Cohen and Rosenzweig’s characteristics are accessibility, manipulability, and nonlinearity. I wonder the extent to which these projects represent a greater diversity of authors due to the low bar to entry. Further, I wonder how visitors can (and cannot) manipulate data to lead to new insights. Does the nonlinearity of these websites promote visitor exploration and production of new understandings?

I would also like Martyn Jessop’s article, Digital visualization as a scholarly activity, to inform my analysis of these two projects. Does the framework that Jessop puts forth for methods of visualization as scholarly work apply to these websites? Does it help me understand their intended impacts?

Finally, I wonder if it would be useful to consider a theory of racial formation that considers the relationships between how minoritized groups are racialized. When I first thought about comparing these two websites, Natalie Molina’s work came to mind. I read her book, How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts, for my final paper in the Historian’s Craft. She recently co-edited Relation Formations of Race: Theory, Method, and Practice, which might provide a grounding for understanding how these two projects relate to each other.

4 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: Mapping Racial Violence”

  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m incredibly interested in your project proposal, especially after reading Monica Muñoz Martinez’s text and speaking with her last year about her research and the Mapping Violence project. One question I think we might have posed to her in that class (or could have) was: “How do you define violence” and I wonder if that also is an interesting point of analysis here. The question of whether to include more implicit, less physical forms of violence such as erasure, displacement, etc. are ones that I’m sure have come up and been defined by these projects, so I wondered if that would be something you hoped to analyze within the scope of this project?

  2. Thanks for the comments and questions, Carmen! I hadn’t thought about considering that for this potential project. What you had to say about other forms fo violence — erasure, displacement, etc. — also really interests me. For my digital project, I intend to propose something around language rights in schools and bilingual education, so assimilationist education and resistance to that. I hadn’t really seen the connection between these projects and more implicit forms of violence.

  3. This sounds like a great potential project. Starting from these specific digital mapping projects that focus on mapping violence prompts some great initial points of comparison. Your thought of framing some of this in relationship to the Jessop article makes a lot of sense. If you were to do this, it might be interesting to try and fan out and see if there are some more examples of projects that you could draw into comparison. For example, Digital Harlem integrates data from police reports into their platform http://digitalharlem.org/

    If you did go ahead with this as a paper project, it might also be interesting to think about reaching out to the creators of the sites to ask them questions about how they thought about what their visualizations and map interfaces do for visualizing racial violence. I think it’s likely they would respond to you and I think their thoughts and reflections on their own projects and the other projects could be really valuable information for this project.

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