A review of In the Same Boats, a digital map exploring the travels of Afro-Atlantic intellectuals, directed by Kaiama L. Glover and Alex Gil
In the Same Boats
The first version of the project is reviewed here. A new version was released in July 2023.
A full list of those involved in assembling the data and creating the project is available on the website.
Andrew Sluyter, Louisiana State University
Kaiama L. Glover and Alex Gil
In the Same Boats is a work of multimodal scholarship designed to encourage the collaborative production of humanistic knowledge within scholarly communities. The platform comprises two interactive visualizations that trace the movements of cultural actors from the Americas, Africa, and Europe within the 20th century Afro-Atlantic world. The project comprises a series of individual maps produced on a common template by specialists (“Editors”) of the different linguistic regions of the western Atlantic. Its aim is to encourage Caribbeanist, Latin-Americanist, Africanist, Afro-Europeanist, and Afro-Americanist scholars to more readily engage in transnational and transcolonial dialogue.
The project aims to present opportunities for unearthing connections among Caribbean, Latin American, African, European, and US Black–American intellectuals by transgressing nation-language frontiers — Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanophone, and Lusophone — that are the legacies of colonialism in the postcolonial world. We facilitate a physical tracing of hemispheric black studies — to provide a point of departure from which to highlight the various sites wherein Afro-Atlantic intellectual traditions may have been born and/or shepherded into the world.
The platform’s visualizations sketch a “big picture” narrative of Black intellectual and artistic migration, revealing potential points and periods of encounter (“Trajectories”). Upon drilling down into the maps’ nodal points, specific time-spaces of confluence emerge, calling — we hope — for further scholarly exploration (“Intersections”). Indeed, In the Same Boats is meant to serve above all as an invitation for our community of researchers, students, and educators to flesh out and enrich the scholarly record toward the constitution of a 20th century Afro-Atlantic Republic of Arts and Letters.
The project has gone through several stages of development. After formulating the original scope, Kaiama Glover and Alex Gil put together a team of students, who they compensated with internal funding. The more advanced graduate, Emily Fuhrman, was in charge of teaching a group of beginners while building the alpha prototype. The original proposal was to combine D3 with the static site generator Jekyll to produce a visualization that minimized the data cost for readers. The project went through several rounds of student work before being passed to Agile Humanities in Canada for polishing, thanks to grant funding from the University of Virginia. In the current 1.0 iteration, the data is edited and validated on Google Sheets to make it easier for scholars to contribute. The site continues to use D3 and Jekyll, with intermediary steps run in Python on the back-end.
In the Same Boats has benefited from support from the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, from the University of Virginia Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and from Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. The project has been cited in archipelagos journal and in the Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy as both a humanistic and technological model for the kind of work needed both in the field of Black Studies and in the digital humanities.
In the Same Boats traces the movements in time and space of 12 Black intellectuals, artists, and authors of the 20th-century Afro-Atlantic. The goal is to explicate the movements of C.L.R. James, Katherine Dunham, and ten other “authors,” as the project terms them, to begin to define networks of potential interactions. In this initial release, the dozen authors comprise only a selection of the possibilities, and for each, the project directors had to assemble 15 scholars, each expert in at least one of the authors, to collaborate on the datasets using Google Sheets, although the final form of the database goes unspecified.
The Instructions screen uses succinct text and animated GIFs to explain how to map the data in two ways: “Trajectories” and “Intersections.” Both use a sliding filter control to set the temporal range in monthly increments between the extremes of January 1890 and January 2010. The places with associated dates within the selected period appear on a monochromatic global base map. “Trajectories” seems most useful for understanding the historical geography of the authors, which in many cases were astonishingly global in scope. “Intersections,” in contrast, excels at discovering cities where two or more authors overlapped in time, such as when authors involved in the Harlem Renaissance and the Négritude movement simultaneously sojourned in Paris or New York. In the Same Boats leaves it to users, however, to delve into the details of actual interactions in each city, if any.
Functionally, the “Trajectories” screen provides an additional filter for the names of the authors, allowing display of one or more at a time. The places associated with each author appear as orange dots. Curved lines connect the places for each author into an itinerary, with their colors matched to those of the author's name in the filter, although the similarity of some colors used at times defeats that feature. Moreover, lines arc out from their origin dot in anticipation of the actual journey, appearing before the actual trip and the destination dot, sometimes by decades. Selecting a dot opens a pop-up note with the names of the author and place, time period spent there, and related primary and secondary sources.
The “Intersections” screen doesn’t include the author filter because it generates dots for each place with any authors during the period set with the time filter, with the diameter of the dot for each place increasing in direct proportion to the number of authors present. Selecting a dot produces a list of authors in that place during that period, including the date range for each author. When precise dates for one or more authors remain unknown, the dots become transparent to indicate uncertainty.