Mapping the Haitian Revolution
January 27, 2021

Ideas into Action: Mapping the Haitian Revolution

Institute fellows Stephanie Curci and Chris Jones develop interactive mapping tool to teach the Haitian Revolution.
by Sarah Bakanosky

Stephanie Curci, instructor in English at Phillips Academy, first traveled to Haiti as a young child in 1978. From then on, Curci returned to the island annually, developing a deep familiarity with the nation, its history, and literature. Curci learned to speak Haitian Kreyol and wrote her master’s thesis at Brown on the effects of the revolution on antebellum American literature. Her website, Mapping Haitian History, is a well-respected resource for historians and scholars of the Caribbean. When she and Chris Jones, instructor in history and social science, approached the Tang Institute in 2016 with a fellowship proposal to create a digital humanities resource that would be used to help teach the history of Haiti, we were thrilled to support an undertaking with such a far-reaching impact on teaching and learning.

For several years, Curci and Jones have taught “The History and Literature of the Haitian Revolution”, a course that allows Andover students to investigate the revolution and unpack, at least in part, the monumental significance of the only successful large-scale slave rebellion in the Atlantic World. The history of Haiti is multifaceted and complex, but the teaching resources currently available are often inadequate or difficult to access and use in the classroom. That needed to change. With the support of the Tang Institute, Curci and Jones addressed this curricular gap and created a dynamic mapping tool that can be used by teachers and students seeking to explore this rich and important history.

The Haitian revolution is one of the most interesting and important events in world history, but it doesn't yet get the treatment a world-historical event of this magnitude should. These resources should give middle and high school teachers the confidence to better understand and teach this incredibly complex timeline.

Stephanie Curci Instructor in English, Tang Institute Fellow

Creating a Digital Resource

As they reflected on how best to create their resource, Curci and Jones looked for precedents. They found one in Harvard professor Vincent Brown’s thematic map of the 1760-1761 slave revolt in Jamaica. Curci and Jones spoke with Brown and other leading scholars, thinking through both the historical and technical questions. What were the shifting borders of Haiti during the revolution? How could they best be represented digitally, in a format that would be accessible on a range of devices?

Ultimately, Jones and Curci chose to collaborate with Axis Maps, a team of designers and developers who specialize in building interactive maps and geospatial problem-solving tools. This multi-year collaboration was an opportunity for Curci and Jones to reimagine the best ways to share the narrative of the Haitian Revolution. Working closely with the Axis maps team, Curci and Jones paid close attention to every detail. Curci even went to the effort of hand-drawing each map to ensure developers were able to accurately depict every border, battle, and actor on the online site.

Curci hand drew each map to ensure as much accuracy as possible.

As the development of the digital mapping site reached its final phase, Curci and Jones sought feedback from those who would be using the site as well as organizations that focus on teaching and promoting Haitian history. One such place was archipelagos, a digital, peer-reviewed publication that focuses on contemporary scholarly and artistic work in and on the Caribbean. The archipelagos review of Mapping the Haitian Revolution was overwhelmingly positive, calling the mapping site “an ambitious and beautifully realized project”. The review offered suggestions for additional functionality, and ways to make this useful tool even more engaging, which have since been incorporated by Curci and Jones.

Looking Ahead: Sharing and Impact

Looking ahead, Curci and Jones are excited to continue improving the site, with an eye towards developing curricular materials that could be used by teachers from a range of school contexts. For example, there are many ways the mapping tool can be used in language and political science courses. And while the coursework for Mapping the Haitian Revolution currently meets standards in two disciplines at Phillips Academy, there are also plans to link to Common Core standards so teachers at US public schools can more easily use the site with their students and integrate the history of the Haitian Revolution into their teaching.

Curci and Jones are also exploring the possibility of translating the site into French and Kreyol. Offering the site in multiple languages would expand the audience and reach of the project; it would also enable Curci and Jones to include and link additional resources to the site, offering an even more in-depth and diverse look into the events and actors that had an impact on the revolution.

This project sets a superb standard for future public-facing Institute work. It’s in dialogue with contemporary scholarship and pedagogical approaches; it fills a needed curricular gap on and off campus; and it uses technology to gather resources and tell a story that would otherwise be inaccessible. Stay tuned for future developments about this project!

[The Haiti mapping site] is a multi-functional tool in our history classrooms. It can be used foundationally as a kind of scaffold for students to build, in just 17 maps, a basic textual and cartographic narrative of the Haitian Revolution. Of course the versatility of the website comes from the platform built by Axis Maps, whose web expertise we could never have employed without the support of the Tang Institute. Because of the financial support from the Tang Institute, Steph and I could focus almost exclusively on the academic side of the site while leaving the tech side to Axis Maps.

Chris Jones Instructor in history and social science, Tang Institute Fellow

Bravo, Steph and Chris!

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