2018 Annual Meeting Roundup: "Teaching Contested History: Digital Archives and Digital Maps"

This session takes place on Thursday, April 12 at the 2018 OAH Annual Meeting in Sacramento and is endorsed by the OAH Committee on National Park Service Collaboration.
Twitter: #AM2454

Chair: Tess Bundy, Merrimack College
Commentator: Tess Bundy, Merrimack College

• Patricia Reeve, Chair, History Department, Suffolk University, Boston
• Giordana Mecagni, Northeastern University-- Archives and Special Collections
• Julia Howington, Suffolk University
• Josue Sakata, Boston Public Schools
• Amy Lewis, St. Norbert College

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“Teaching Contested History: Using Digital Maps to Tell the Story of Malinda Bibb”

Malinda Bibb never escaped slavery. Although she ran, with her husband Henry and their young daughter Mary Frances, through the swamps of the Red River valley in Louisiana, she never reached the North. She never lived as a free woman. She never wrote a slave narrative that exposed the cruelties of slavery in the United States or publicly called for the abolition of chattel slavery.

Henry Bibb did escape. Sold away from his family, he walked from the Cherokee territories to Detroit, Michigan. He wrote Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave (1849), in which he denounced a Christian nation that allowed the atrocities of slavery to go unchecked. He worked for the Detroit Liberty party and traveled the state as an abolitionist speaker. I teach Bibb’s narrative as “contested history” to foreground the challenges scholars face when they want to write history that includes the stories of women like Malinda alongside the stories of the men, like Henry, who escaped.

Part of our workshop at the OAH 2018 Annual Meeting will describe a project-based course that focuses on the creation of digital story maps. In a course on antebellum slave narratives, students work to make a map that foregrounds the different realities that Henry and Malinda lived as enslaved African Americans. Henry, Malinda, and their daughter Mary Frances all start in Kentucky, living amongst family, but Henry’s map outlines his move into the North, while Malinda’s map shows her path diverging from his, as she and Mary Frances move farther and farther South. To tell the different stories of Henry and Malinda Bibb, I work with students to mine Bibb’s narrative for his descriptions of Malinda’s life and to search digital archives for the speeches and newspaper articles that Henry wrote. Ultimately, we perform what Toni Morrison calls “literary archeology”[1] as we “dig” for what scant information exists on Malinda and we reconstruct some semblance of her life.

For more information about the class and our digital mapping project, read “Teaching Nineteenth-Century Slave Narratives: Engaging Student Scholars in the Production of Digital Story Maps” in the Wisconsin English Journal (vol. 59, no. 1-2, 2017) at https://wejournal.wordpress.com/. To see an example of a digital story map created for Harriet Jacob’s narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), visit the Digital Commons at St. Norbert college at http://digitalcommons.snc.edu/gis_library/3/.

[1] See Morrison, Toni. “The Site of Memory” in Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, editor William Zinsser (1995).


Amy Lewis, Ph.D.is an Assistant Professor of Humanities and Liberal Arts at St. Norbert College. She is a 19th-century Americanist whose research interests focus on African-American slave narratives written during the antebellum period.


Posted: March 27, 2018
Tagged: Conference, Previews, Teaching, Digital Humanities