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Ashley Wiersma

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November 8, 2012

Exploring Digital Travel through Time and Space – Ashley Wiersma

November 8, 2012 | By | No Comments

I’m a little crazy or maybe a lot crazy, some may even say masochistic. I must be. After working in a ‘real’ job as a high school math teacher for two years, I chose to go back to school as a full time student to earn a PhD in history. I considered pursuing a PhD in applied mathematics after obtaining my bachelor’s as a double major in secondary mathematics and history education, but after reflecting on the way history broadened both my own and my students’ perceptions and understanding of the world (past and present) and each other, a career in history seemed to have the potential to make a more meaningful difference than whatever I decided to do with math.

So here I am five years later, a student in the History department at Michigan State University, “All But Dissertation,” and working on said dissertation. My research began as a longitudinal study of the role of gender in French colonialism in the American Midwest and Algeria, but due to lack of North American sources, I had to rethink the study. I was still curious about what a comparative work between the two regions might reveal if I analyzed the processes of American and French settler colonialism. Surprisingly, Indiana and Illinois and the province of Constantine in Algeria went through very similar phases of colonization with each métropole acting in similar ways and creating institutions to fill precisely the same roles. My research seeks to understand what motivated the formation of settler colonies in each location, how each developed, and what the similarities and differences can tell us about settler colonialism more broadly.

I was first drawn to the digital humanities through reading and then writing for GradHacker.org and a number of conversations with Alex Galarza. As a result, I’ve discovered a way to combine both my love of history and skills in mathematics through the digital humanities. I’m practically giddy as I work through coding tutorials, fondly remembering the hours I whiled away in a computer lab working on linear programming. And then I remember the hours I spent debugging code – not so fondly. Nevertheless, I’m excited about the opportunity to work with the CHI team, explore the many possibilities that the digital humanities present, and discover how my own work might contribute to the community.

As a teacher and researcher, I believe that knowledge acquired and held by one person is of little value; however, if it is made available to others and presented in a way that allows for conversation and collaboration, it becomes dynamic and meaningful. Although I love my research and hope that it will make a significant contribution to a relatively new field of inquiry, I am a teacher at heart and would like my work to be meaningful both inside and out of academia. For this reason, I am exploring geospatial visualization with a digital repository underneath the cartographic user interface as a way to:

  • Share my research with a broader educational community
  • Publicize the histories, perspectives, and memories of Indigenous communities, as well as the settlers, government officials, and militaries involved
  • Provide a space for other scholars of settler colonialism to do the same.

Outside of my academic life, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, being outdoors as much as possible (running, biking, hiking, horseback riding), and playing cello. I love to travel, meet new people, explore, and experience life in new places, but I also appreciate returning home to the family farm. These days, the best place to find me is online since my time in the States is limited to just a few months before returning to Europe in January.

Twitter: @throughthe_veil

Website (still a work in progress!): http://colonialismthroughtheveil.wordpress.com

Academia: http://michiganstate.academia.edu/AshleyWiersma

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