Portfolio Activity 9: Narrative Maps


For this exercise in creating a narrative map, I chose to use Storymap JS to trace the path of a beaver pelt took from its moment of acquisition from Native trappers, through its transport by enslaved labor, and to its final consumption as an alienated commodity across the Atlantic. The “on the rails,” step-by-step nature of Storymap JS seemed to make perfect sense for this style of commodity history. However, I quickly discovered the matter was not as straight forward as I originally assumed: beavers were hunted and entered the commodity chain at numerous points of entry. In the real world, there was no single, teleological path leading from Wisconsin to England. Some traders went east to New York, while others went north to Quebec. I wanted to show multiple branching and intersecting paths, yet the “rails” began to feel constricting. Additionally, when it came to my document methodology, the very structure of the “rails” felt shaky. Ideally, this singular-path narrative would be perfect if I had the documentation to identify the purchase of a singular beaver pelt and follow it through every point of exchange. But aside from such a perfect set of documentation existing being slim, the odds of finding it digitized are even slimmer. Thus, the path I “reconstructed” felt a little anachronistic in how it pulled documents ranging from 1763 to 1835. It was also disappointing to discover that much of the rich documentation Tiya Miles drew from for the intersection of the slavery and the fur trade simply were not digitized.

Nonetheless, after completing this assignment, I could not help but feel a sense of pride that was rather unique compared to past assignments. While it is far from polished, what I created is still a piece of presentation-friendly material that I wish I had had the knowhow for in the past. And even on a more intellectual level, this exercise forced me to more closely grasp how history transpires over space (something I did not realize I was lacking before). I have dealt with commodity histories in past classes, but this narrative mapping enabled me to grasp the complexity of commodity chains in a way that simple textual narratives are unable to.

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