Commerce and Cartography on Colonial Frontiers: Reexamining American & African History ~ through Maps | EV&N 356 | CCTV

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YouTube Version

The digitization of rare historical maps now makes it possible to conduct comparative colonial history with scarce primary sources which previously had highly restricted availability.  Digital map and manuscript collections are becoming increasingly accessible online including public available collections in the Library of Congress, The National Archives, the David Rumsey Map Collection, the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), Afriterra: (The Cartographic Free Library), The Leventhal Collection, the Osher Map Library and the image collections of The New York Public Library.   Private university libraries and collections like the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Houghton Library at Harvard and the John Carter Brown Library are each undertaking their own projects of digitization and building new mechanisms for scholarly and public communication about their collections.  Moreover, distinguished antiquarian map dealers, like Barry Ruderman Antique Maps, have begun to present their material with digitized images for the public to view.

In response to this growing digitization of historical primary source material groups like the The Africa Map Circle are seeking to work with historians, cartographers, geographers, computer graphics experts and professional librarians to develop the necessary technologies and protocols to facilitate collaboration and the sharing of information through ongoing “virtual seminars” on a whole new range of topics.  Their work is occasionally shared and discussed through an informal network of “Map Societies” located throughout the United States, including The Boston Map Society and The Washington Map Society.

In addition, professional organizations are developing an interest in these experiments  in several established fields of university teaching.  For example, as part of the 2019 African Studies Association (ASA) annual meeting held in Boston during November 2019, Dr. Gerald Rizzo extended a generous invitation to all members of the ASA to visit and view Afriterra at its Boston headquarters — a visit during which Dr. Jules Carney (UCLA, Geography) presented an important address entitled: “The Trans-Atlantic Horizon: A Cartographic Observance of Africa’s Botanical Legacy,” [with cartographic support material] (22 November 2019) based on several decades of her research on trans-Atlantic ethno-botany.

Afriterra-paper-CarneyAt future meetings of the African Studies Association (ASA) it is expected that further map-based research will be presented and demonstrated with the online technology made available through Afriterra‘s rich collections as well as resources from other online digital map collections.

In addition to facilitating new kinds of advanced research and online scholarly publication, the techniques and technologies that are being created in the “Africa Map Circle” provide innovative interactive teaching methods at all levels from secondary school through advanced post-doctoral, team research projects.

Moreover, there is — in principle — no restriction to the geographic area, regional or subject topics topics that can be investigated and taught with these newly available methods.  Developed initially for the study of the cartography of the African and American trading frontiers from the 16th to the 20th centuries, these same techniques and methodologies can be applied without limit to any other area of the world, potentially across all disciplinary and national boundaries.

Finally, because of the precautionary restrictions on gatherings of large groups in response to the COVID-19 global crisis, traditional teaching at all levels from pre-school through post-doctoral research has had to change rapidly.  In some instances the pervasive infrastructure of “Community Television” stations — available through the provisions made for the creation of cable access T.V. throughout the United States — has begun to be deployed for the diffusion of public education and information quite apart from traditional educational institutions.

In short, the methods and technologies that have been developed here for historical study now enable a significantly new kind interactive instructional and learning experience for both teachers and students — at all levels.

For further discussion of these issues and the opportunities that can now be developed online see the forthcoming presentation:

“Each One Reach One ~ Each One Teach One: Innovative Online Platforms
for the Research & Teaching of Global History.”

Resources for the brief overview video above were drawn from the Library of Congress:

and selected excerpts from:



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