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Emancipation events during US civil war mapped

Philadelphia, USA: University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab in collaboration with Azavea, a GIS software development company, launched ‘Visualizing Emancipation’ map. This is the first interactive map which shows the end of American slavery during the US Civil War.

The application displays more than 3,000 geographically tagged emancipation events, such as reports of African Americans helping the Union, fugitive slave notices, insurrections and raids.  It assists in narrating the complex story of emancipation by mapping documented evidence of African Americans’ activities, viewed alongside the Union military movements and the shifting legal status of slavery during the war.  

Using its high performance geoprocessing GeoTrellis framework, the Azavea software development team added the ability to see emancipation events on a heat map, showing the density of these events in all areas of the American South.  An additional animation feature shows how the location of events and Union military positions changed throughout the war, enabling investigation of patterns of events.  Events can also be searched by keyword, start and end dates, source (book, newspaper, official record, personal papers) and type of event.  Clicking an event on the map displays an excerpt about it and a link to the primary source.

The web application combines open source and commercial tools, including: OpenLayers, GeoServer, PostGIS and an ArcGIS Online base map.  The University of Richmond plans to both extend this prototype and incorporate it into a much more extensive digital Atlas of American History.

Scott Nesbit, associate director of the lab said, “The trick is finding and making events visible, while acknowledging the complexity of when, where and how slavery fell apart in the US.  The site aims to make exploring emancipation more straightforward and understandable.”

Source: Azavea