HIST 289: Visualizing the Past


HIST 289: Visualizing the Past, Spring 2023

Mapping has long been a tool to define spaces and claim authority through representation and obfuscation. While governments and other authorities have often used maps to legitimize their sovereignty or control over a locale, digital platforms have created opportunities to democratize knowledge production and challenge the dominant meanings of space. Community-engaged mapping projects have, for example, made marginalized communities visible, recovered little-known histories of neighborhood movements, and buttressed grassroots public policy campaigns.

Students in the spring 2023 offering of HIST 289: Visualizing the Past, taught by Dr. Bryan Winston, embraced the potential of mapping within the ethics of public and digital history. Students began the course with readings related to public history, digital humanities, and data studies. They discussed the ethics of public history, audience, usability, accessibility, and the subjectivity of data and maps. As the semester progressed, students completed exercises demonstrate their proficiency in digital skills necessary to create a mapping project that told a story. They brought these skills, their readings, and their own research to bear in the projects shared here.

All of the projects you will find below engage with some aspect of Connecticut’s past, present, and future. They also represent some of the key pillars of public history: co-creation and shared authority. Some projects focus on Wesleyan University and its location in Middletown, Connecticut. Others look beyond Middletown, and some even cast a wider net to the boundaries of the state. As you read about these projects, an awareness permeates the creators’ writing that these are works in progress. In highlighting the labor behind digital humanities and public history, the creators view iteration, rather than completion, as success. To further emphasize their projects as a beginning, all of the student creators suggest community partnerships, that, with more time, resources, and relationships, may produce a participatory and sustainable project. This website shares only a portion of all the work the students poured into a challenging and rewarding semester. Using the links below, you will visit an individual page for each project. When you visit a project’s individual page, you will find a project justification, static maps and images, a select bibliography, and a link to an interactive map (if applicable). At the bottom of this welcome page, you can also view select readings and digital projects that shaped the students’ thinking and inspired the projects we share here. We hope you will enjoy the lessons and suggestions of the students’ creative and inquisitive work. As you will read, the students demonstrate how the digital humanities can transform public history and hope their projects may inspire deeper explorations into our common narratives.

  • “Mapping Connecticut’s Citizen Environmental Activism” looks at Connecticut’s long history of environmental activism by visualizing coverage by one of the state’s major newspapers, The Hartford Courant. The creators seek a broader source base that includes newspapers, activist histories, and community input for the next stage of their project to better represent a grassroots history of environmental justice.
  • “Mapping Greenspace at Wesleyan University” considers how Wesleyan the institution transformed Middletown. The creators chart Wesleyan’s expansion from 1898 to the present and emphasize different greenspaces created and/or enclosed by the university.
  • “Interstate Highway and Segregation in Hartford” provides a speculative case study of the relationship between highway construction, urban renewal, and health disparities in Hartford. The creators hope their project is a steppingstone for community-led mapping and education that can offer a more equitable future for Hartford.
  • “Vet Care Industry Consolidation in Connecticut” succeeded in an ambitious data collection and visualization process that shows us a changing industry. The creators propose a consumer-centered approach to help pet owners learn more about the changes in vet care and hope to improve the care pets receive while limiting its cost.

A special thanks to Brenna Larson, Special Collections and Archives Librarian, and Jesse Nasta, Director of the Middlesex County Historical Society, for sharing their archival research skills and their knowledge of area collections at critical stages throughout the semester.

A Select Course Bibliography


  • Dan Bouk, Kevin Ackerman, and danah boyd, “A Primer on Powerful Numbers
  • Bayo Holsey, “Slavery Tourism: Representing a Difficult History in Ghana,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public History. (2017)
  • Jessica Marie Johnson, “Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” in Social Text (2018)
  • Sharon M. Leon, “Complexity and Collaboration: Doing Public History in Digital Environments,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public History (2017)
  • Amy Lonetree, “Missed Opportunities: Reflections on the NMAI” in American Indian Quarterly (2006)
  • Jamila Moore Pewu, “Digital Reconnaissance: Relocating Dark Spots on a Map” in The Digital Black Atlantic
  • Todd Presner, David Shepard, Yoh Kawano, HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities
  • Roopika Risam, New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy
  • Andrew Wiseman, “When Maps Lie,” CityLab, June 25, 2015

Projects of Influence