My project, “Open Wounds,” is designed as two parts: first, a mapping of the visible geological damage of capitalism in Utah using ArcGIS; and second, writing an accessible and compelling “StoryMap” sharing the narrative behind this destruction. Born in Maine and raised in Mississippi, I had never seen open-pit mines, evaporation ponds, and mining infrastructure dominate a landscape as it does in Utah, whose broad, arid landscape accentuate the scope of visible destruction. Driven to understand more about this phenomenon, as well as get a better picture in my head of the extent of the damage, I began visiting sites and collecting data in advance of my proposal to Digital Matters.
The more I learned about the history of resource extraction in Utah, the more I learned how naïve I had been going into the project: naïve about the ease of access to these geographical sites and data sets, naïve about the scope of the problem and the diversity of mining “occurrences” in the West, and naïve about the ease of narrativizing this history.
Fortunately, I was also naïve to the helpfulness and encouragement of the Digital Matters faculty, which provided continuous support in my overcoming these concerns!
As an academic, I am interested in institutional critique at the heart of anti-capitalism, and as a creative writer, I am interested in both the people and the setting of the West, my new home, and in novel narratological devices, like the schema employed by StoryMaps. The Digital Matters Faculty Grant dovetailed exactly with these interests, allowing me to examine the long-term damage of capitalism in the context of Western people and Western setting within a new set of technological tools.
Text is linear, but stories, in the final sense, are not, and the StoryMap does not fundamentally alter this relationship in the way I had hoped; it takes deliberation and creativity to avoid defaulting to a linear, text-based narrative even with the data and tools of ArcGIS, and I’m not sure I successfully circumvented that linearity. However, both ArcGIS and StoryMaps are more accessible than I first realized and still more powerful than I can fully utilize, which is encouraging for both cartography and narratology as more people can engage and experiment with this technology.
I also hope that mapping the visual damage of capitalism is itself an effective visual representation of the damage sustained by 133+ years of colonization and that my StoryMap, if ultimately linear, still tells the story that I set out to tell.
If the technological side of your proposal feels beyond your initial reach, don’t let that stop you from applying—there are a lot of super-talented people on board at Digital Matters, with enough patience to get you up to the speed required to realize your vision!
As a creative writer, I have long struggled with the suspicion that I am part of the surveillance network of the state I try to resist through my writing. This project, which relied heavily on public data and proprietary satellite imaging that constitutes a surveillance network far more powerful than I am, pushes this ethical consideration to the fore: is it okay to use surveillance capitalism to surveil capitalism? If so, how might this technology be even more effectively developed in the interests of a sustainable, equitable future?
My project, “Open Wounds,” is designed as two parts: first, a mapping of the visible geological damage of capitalism in Utah using ArcGIS; and second, writing an accessible and compelling “StoryMap” sharing the narrative behind this destruction.–Daniel Uncapher, Spring 2021 DM Graduate Fellow