Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761 Site Review


Slave Revolt in Jamaica appears to be the work of one man, Vincent Brown “Principal Investigator and Curator.” While Brown includes other titles related to his academic work (for instance “Charles Warren Professor of History and Professor of African and African-American Studies”), this initial title presents Brown’s self described relationship with the website, and the sort of work he pursues in relation to it— Investigation and Curation (more on these two aspects shortly).

Originally published in 2012, there’s no indication that updates have been made since the site’s initial unveiling. There is a “Blog” link, however all that makes up this section are the remnants of the site’s original creation— a WordPress welcome message and a Test Post with, among other things, a broken image and a link back to the first page. This Blog, while perhaps intended as space of conversation, is a vestigial remnant of the sites creation, pointing towards a direction never taken.

The majority of the content occurs in 2 sections, a “Project Description” and a “Multi-layered Interactive Map,” both of which are very productive, particularly in conjunction with each other. First, though, I would like to turn to the other sections of the site. In addition to the description, map, and blog are “Sources” and “Acknowledgements.” In “Sources” we find a productive bibliography which indicates a substantial amount of archival work behind the site’s creation. The “Acknowledgements” page includes common sorts of information- financial support, a mention of others who have been helpful in the research and creation of the site, and a brief paragraph concerning Brown’s relationship with various digital map collectives (of these, 1 link is dead).

In looking at these three sections of “Sources,” “Acknowledgements,” and “Blog” we get a picture of a site which has been well researched but not updated, perhaps since its initial unveiling. Rather than Curation it might be best to consider the site as Published, but the defunct Blog and dead link points towards a lack of updating.

The Project Description is well written and fascinating. The page is consistently engaging, with an effective use of images and gifs, embedded footnote citations, and a page layout which lends itself to onscreen viewing. Brown does an excellent job of detailing and interpreting for the reader important aspects of the map, and what can be learned by following the paths taken by members of the uprising. As he points out, the rebels produced no documents, so the written record skews history’s understanding of the rebellion toward the perspective of the English. Mapping the progress of the rebellion helps elucidate some of the motivations and strategies of the slave uprising occulted by an archival emphasis on British written records.

In the Project Description Brown also offers a productive description of the sorts of limitations (and strengths) of such a project, and the steps he had to take in order to present sometimes ambiguous information. This attention to the difficulties of mapping out the slave uprising (historically the importance of uncertainty to the survival and devleopment of the rebellion itself, the variety of first person descriptions of an event, as well as more contemporary issues, such as how to indicate the progress of the rebellion through symbols) helps elucidate the boundaries of Brown’s project while also emphasizing its own strengths (presenting an event inherently difficult to present). In all of this he shows a great amount of precision as “Principal Investigator.”

The map is itself, of course, fascinating, though at times one wishes for more information. One could imagine, for instance, additional information about towns, quotes which describe events, etc. There is something like this on the left hand side which presents quotes taken from the archive, but it can be difficult to place each quote in relation to the events displayed on the map. We may here be encountering some of the difficulties of putting together such a project- not only in time and effort but also the display of information- what is most effective, what is too much, what is too little?

The time line along the bottom of the map, and the ability to pause, zoom in and out, and the ability to display or hide the Map Legend are all very productive.

At the top right of each page of the site is a Google Custom search bar, enabling precise searches across the language of the entire site. This strikes me as a helpful inclusion.

In all the website strikes me as an inventive means of displaying information difficult to access through text alone. There are some minor issues with site presentation, as mentioned above, but the core of the site, the project description and animated map, excel in their own particular attempts to present a more complicated view of history.

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