The majority of present-day states are former colonies or colonial metropoles, a number of which were or still are settler colonies. Consequently, it is essential to know where and how such colonies formed to understand current geopolitics and to raise awareness of their legacy, especially in present-day settler colonies, such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. As a Cultural Heritage Informatics fellow, I am taking the first step toward making information about two prototypes of settler colonization – the United States and French Algeria – available for high school and undergraduate students and educators, as well as early-stage researchers and the general public through a website, entitled “Settler Colonialism Uncovered.”
This project will focus on where, how, and why settler colonies developed in these locations and will allow users to explore the regions’ geography, how the landscape and demographics changed over time due to the influx of settlers, and how colonial administrators, settlers, and Indigenous communities experienced these changes. Using the geospatial and temporal visualization capabilities of either Omeka/Neatline or VisualEyes, the interface will be an interactive temporal map of the focus regions with a narrative text and underneath, collections of primary sources, including sketches, news articles, treaties, transcribed speeches, correspondence, and selections from military reports and memoirs. It is my hope that this site will eventually serve as a repository for oral histories from colonized Indigenous populations so that their voices may be heard (literally and figuratively) alongside text-based sources that have historically been produced primarily by the colonizers. Thus, this project will be one step toward decolonizing historical memory and present the story of settler colonialism as it unfolded in two significant regions from multiple perspectives to encourage users to think critically about the past, especially that which feels most familiar, and develop informed perspectives about present socio-political debates.
There are two platforms I am considering for this project: Omeka with the Neatline plug-in and VisualEyes. Using one of these platforms and MapBox, I intend to create a website with temporal maps, narrative text, and primary sources to show how several specific sites of colonization changed over time. The maps will contain embedded descriptions of the sites and important events pulled from primary sources to demonstrate the locations of indigenous communities in relation to settlers and how the social landscape changed over time. It is also important that users have access to a narrative and additional primary documents to explore and understand these events and their repercussions.
Omeka is my first choice in platforms for this project because it is a web-publishing platform that functions as an integrated digital collection, content management, and exhibition system. One of its primary advantages is the robust nature of the metadata one can include for each item added to its database. Additionally, teachers and professors can use the site to create lesson plans, inquiry-based assignments, and facilitate discussion as students explore the site and accompanying primary sources. The Neatline plug-in suite for Omeka is especially well suited to the goals of this project. It is a geospatial exhibit builder with a temporal component that allows one to develop interactive contextualized representations of the past that bring archival collections to life through maps, nuanced timelines, and embedded primary sources.
VisualEyes is the second option I am considering for this project. It is also a web-publishing tool developed by SHANTI (Sciences, Humanities & Arts Network of Technological Initiatives) at the University of Virginia. It allows scholars to display primary source materials within a rich narrative that brings together images, maps, audio, video, animation, charts, data, and interactive timelines. These contextualized visualizations encourage students and other users to explore, interact, and discover relationships between and among the objects and information presented. While VisualEyes projects are beautiful and engaging, I am concerned about the platform’s ability to embed enough sources to make it useful to undergraduate students, local history “buffs,” and graduate students. Two questions then remain: What does the back end look like for VisualEyes? Do I need to set up a repository like KORA from which it will pull materials?
An equally important consideration is which mapping platform to use to create the map tiles. After some experimentation with MapBox, it seems to possess the capabilities I will need for this project. It is an open-source, cloud-based platform that allows the user to create customized maps that are easy to embed and share on other sites.
I have presented a grand vision in this paper, but that is the larger project. This year, I plan to create a prototype with one location and set of sources – for instance, Vincennes, Indiana – that will serve as a model for others. In the future, I would like to continue to develop more complex maps and add additional locations and people groups to the site, as well as learning activities and guides for high school teachers and professors, and additional information that would be useful for amateur historians and genealogists. Ideally, this would also become a repository for other scholars of settler colonialism and indigenous history to share their own research and provide rich source with which further comparative studies may be conducted.
 At its most simplistic, settler colonialism was (and is) a process in which emigrants move(d) with the express purposes of territorial occupation and the formation of a new community rather than the extraction of labor or resources (however, these may have been or become secondary objectives). An integral part of settler colonization is the dispossession and elimination of Indigenous inhabitants and the creation of a narrative that elides the violence and settler culpability inherent in this process. For more information, please see my blog: Colonialism Through the Veil, as well as Lorenzo Veracini and Edward Cavanagh’s blog Settler Colonial Studies.