Project Reflections: Mapping the Pearl Incident

Hi everyone! Thanks for such a great semester. I’ve really enjoyed learning about so many different resources and the mysterious machinations of the digital world. I’ve definitely come away with a better understanding of the ways that digital media can be used to provide historical context and engage with history.  I’m also excited to see how everyone’s final projects!

As for my digital project, I’m excited to share the Pearl Incident StoryMap that I’ve been creating over the semester. Last semester, I began researching the Pearl incident, which was one of the largest attempted escape of enslaved people in the United States. For my research, I focused on the perspective of one of the fugitives named Ellen Stewart. With this project, I wanted to learn more about the seventy-six other fugitives and their experiences after the attempted escape.

Throughout this project, I struggled with figuring out the best way to frame their stories visually on map to give a sense of both the places and the distances that individuals traveled to obtain freedom from slavery. From my research, I piecemealed the places that several of the fugitives would have traveled during the escape on the Pearl as well as after they were caught and returned to Washington, D.C. Since their stories are not widely available online, I wanted to document as many of the fugitives’ stories as possible; however, I soon realized that telling a story about several individuals through a single map might have been a little too ambitious, and that the narrative might be difficult to follow.

I eventually settled on using ArcGIS and StoryMaps to give general historic context about the Pearl incident, the fugitives’ experiences being resold into the slave trade, and their pathways to freedom. Instead of choosing the individual narratives to highlight, I thought it would be best for the reader to choose for themselves. I created several layers of “Map Notes” and color-coded pins depending on the information that the pin provided: before the Pearl incident, involvement in the slave trade, and pathways to freedom. This way, the pins carry the majority of the narrative information that the reader can explore as they explore the map. Unfortunately, this solution may not be the most intuitive for the reader. The pins on the maps carry a lot of information, and I am a little worried that they are difficult to navigate. I tried to include guidelines for using the maps in the text; however, I’m not sure if they help or hinder the audience’s experience navigating the maps. Nevertheless, the process of reaching decisions about the current framework of the StoryMap has helped me realize the benefits and challenges of combining narrative and mapping technology.

Although I am still not entirely happy with the way that the final section, called “Aftermath” is laid out (and I’ll probably do a little more tweaking before turning in my final project), I am glad that I decided to do this project. I have learned a lot about creating a digital resource, and I feel better equipped to tackle digital history projects in the future. Nevertheless, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Here is the current iteration of my project!

And here is my poster!

6 Replies to “Project Reflections: Mapping the Pearl Incident”

  1. Mia, great job! It has been really cool to see your project come together throughout the semester, and I think it was a good choice to focus on the Pearl Incident specifically and to use the StoryMap tool. The mapping tool works really well with this history, and I think that you made your project unique through the way you presented the background history, the individuals who escaped on the map, and the discussion of the slave trade in D.C. Congratulations on a great project!

  2. Mia, I really like your design of the map! When I move along with the story, the map in the background accommodates the historical accounts you are presenting really well. I especially like when one part of the background is black and the next part follows a map and a zoom-in of the map, it gives me a feeling of watching a documentary, seeing the images flow to one another and having the narrative along with the images.

  3. Mia, cool design. I like the way you designed the map and I thought the choice of your subject makes for an interesting project, to say the least. I think you are probably technologically gifted in some form and hopefully, you can share some tips on how to use ArcGIS because I’m a noob.

  4. Mia, I looking at your project, especially because I’ve done work in the past related to abolition and slavery. This was an event that I did not know about, so this was a great way for me to learn about it. As I progressed through your storymap, it felt as though I was reading a book about it, only in a more interactive and convenient medium.

  5. Hi Mia! I am a researcher working on a documentary series about the Underground Railroad, and was wondering if it might be possible to use an image of your map in the series to help illustrate a segment about the Pearl Incident. You can email me at cuhlig (at) if you’d like to discuss further!

    Great work and thanks in advance!

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