“The Oak of Jerusalem: Flight, Refuge, and Reconnaissance in the Great Dismal Swamp Region” is a project created by a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, Christy Hyman. It notes that it was created in support from the University Libraries and the Center Digital Research in the Humanities. The purpose of the project is to provide a narrative with informative maps, quotations, images, and primary source documentation about the historical relationship between peoples in the 19th century and the Great Dismal Swamp. Upon review, it seems that the project is to be read by other scholars and researchers. But, the language and use of visuals also has me thinking that Hyman meant for this site to be used by people outside of academia who may have no previous knowledge about the Great Dismal Swamp.
STORY MAPS BY ESRI? FINE CHOICE!
For “The Oak of Jerusalem” Hyman used Story Maps created by Esri to narrate the content that she presents. What I thought was useful about this option is that it seems appropriate that a project about such a specific spot like the Great Dismal Swamp would be presented using maps. Hyman does a great job of really placing the reader in the location by both giving a written description of the Swamp’s location but by also including maps.
Another useful component of Story Maps is that the webpage that gets created functions as a single page. The reader scrolls down the page, along the way reading text and viewing images and maps. Each section bleeds into the next and as a result, the presented content reads much like a book. As I read through the material, it seemed to me that Hyman may have chosen this platform because it affords such a reading. It felt like she was trying to come up with a more engaging way of presenting information that while known by some, is probably lesser known by many. Story Maps offers a mechanism through which Hyman could highlight the geographical components of her project while also presenting historical content in an enticing way.
DIFFERENT CONFIGURATION NEEDED?
I did wonder however about the template from Story Maps that Hyman chose. I decided to go onto the Story Maps website to see what they have to offer. From my brief perusing, I discovered that site creators can choose amongst ten different options of configuration for a project. From what I can tell, Hyman’s project incorporates two of the options. One allowed her to create a narrative with a full-screen scroll and the other allowed her to section off some of her content with a scrolling side panel that was imposed on top of a stationary image that remained on the screen until you were done reading through the content.
When I looked through the various other configurations that Hyman could have chosen from, I wondered why perhaps she did not choose a different option. One of the main arguments that I think Hyman was trying to assert in her writing is the idea that the story of the Great Dismal Swamp is a highly complicated and dynamic one. There were various groups engaged in its history from the enslaved to enslavers and from natives to white landowners. The region itself was constantly in flux by the very nature of its swampy environment. The space was used for various things including trading, but also as a location for runaways to hide. The kinds of skills, knowledge sets, and supplies required to work in and use the swamp were various and difficult to attain. Because of the interweaving and complicated nature of the Swamp’s story, I wondered about the effectiveness of the single stream narrative that Hyman chose. There are other templates that allow the creator to have separate tabs, to compare maps over time, or even link a set of text and images with a specific map. I wonder if the work that Hyman produced should have physically mirrored the convoluted nature of the actual content.
Ultimately, I think the choices that Christy Hyman made for the organization of this project speak most likely the audience she was trying to capture. She created a narrative that was linear both in its content but also in the way it was presented. As a result, it was easy to follow just exactly what Hyman was trying to highlight. The webpage reads as though she is trying to engage an audience that is not already terribly familiar with the Great Dismal Swamp. I think in capturing that specific audience she used a good platform. It is one that allows for a single stream narrative that engages the reader with images and maps. Where I think she failed to fully engage with the material itself is in not using the various mapping tools that Story Maps has to offer. The Great Dismal Swamp has a topography and history that are very dynamic. This is exactly the kind of place that screams to be mapped using GIS and interpreted through a platform like Story Maps. Christy Hyman’s Story Map is not creating or sharing new knowledge, but it has the potential to represent this knowledge in a new and perhaps uniquely illustrative way. However, more work needs to be done to actually achieve those ends.