Native Places: An Indigenous Atlas of Utah and the Intermountain West is an interactive map of the intermountain west that restores Indigenous placenames to geographic features. Set against a backdrop of USGS names, the project is a response to a history of settler colonialism where Euromericans imposed their placenames on the land, effectively erasing the history and culture of Native peoples. Native Places restores indigenous placenames to their original geographic features, resource sites, and populated places through historical research, tribal consultation, and digital mapping.
I have a keen interest in the ways that digital tools can enhance humanities projects that are accessible and engage with larger audiences. My joint fellowship with Digital Matters and the American West Center was the perfect combination of public history and digital humanities. The cast of scholars and researchers I collaborated with introduced me to new tools and ideas, as well as challenged me in productive ways.
I have discovered the vast potential that digital mapping has for historical scholarship. Maps and GIS are not only a historical research interest of mine, but they can also serve as research tools that open new and interesting questions. Maps are also an engaging way to convey information to general audiences. I also discovered that while digital humanities can be a great tool for research, it carries its own set of conceptual and ideological dilemmas. The conversations had at DM meetings contented to challenge my perceptions of how to best utilize digital tools.
Do not think you must be an expert in GIS, coding, or any digital tool to apply. Digital Matters rewards innovation and creativity, and there is ample opportunity to learn the skills you need to complete your proposed project. With the ability to collaborate across disciplines, I feel that DM is a great way to learn the tools of digital humanities while getting hands-on experience.
Using digital tools, especially mapping can help historians analyze historical documents and see trends and patterns in new ways. The power of mapping and data visualizations is not new, but its adoption by historians can be increased. Many historical documents transfer well into excel sheets (or CSVs), and the power to digitize documents, and making them easily searchable will help facilitate future research. But digital scholarship transcends academia. Moreover, as I am interested in public history, data visualizations are a valuable way to engage with larger audiences.
Native Places restores indigenous placenames to their original geographic features, resource sites, and populated places through historical research, tribal consultation, and digital mapping.–John Flynn, Digital Matters/American West Center Graduate Fellow, Fall 2020 – Spring 2021