George Derek Musgrove, Associate Professor of History engaged the Imaging Research Center in early 2019 to help him improve and sustain an online storytelling website he'd created to share his research into the history of Black Power in the nation's capital since the early 1960s. The project built upon the research related to his book, Chocolate City, co-authored with Chris Myers Asch and published with North Carolina University Press in 2017. Dr. Musgrove was awarded an IRC Summer Faculty Research Fellowship in 2019 to help him realize his vision.
Over the course of a year and a half, he worked with Department of Information Systems graduate student, Kirubel Tolosa, and IRC Director Lee Boot, to take a custom web application he'd already produced, and recreate it in the relatively new StoryMap web application developed by ESRI, (the organization best known the ArcGIS geospatial data mapping software).
The result is a website that offers visitors the opportunity to explore Black Power in DC, through text and photographs, in the context of the city's geography. Arriving at the site, one can scroll through a chronological narrative that begins in 1961 and takes us through 1998. It is filled with information, insight and an excellent collection of photographs echoing what one might find in a more traditional media form, such as a book—but that's where the similarities to the book form end. The narrative is punctuated by links to geographic maps of Washington, DC, dotted with pinned landmarks created in ArcGIS by Dr. Musgrove and Mr. Tolosa. These maps, also accessible through persistent tabs at the top of the site, are named: Origins, 1961-65; Black Power Movement, 1966-76; Institutionalization, 1977-80; Resurgence, 1981-98. Each link loads a map of DC, that can be explored interactively and explored as one would expect with Google or Apple maps, to see key locations. When visitors scroll down, however, they move through a text and photo narrative that automatically pans and zooms the map to relevant locations in the narrative as it unfolds. Pins that identify these locations appear along the way can be clicked on to reveal specific information about each site.
Dr. Musgrove describes his experience working on the project in this way: "As a historian I am most comfortable in the archives and in a library. I know how to do research and write stories. I did not know how to build a website. After working with Kirubel Tolosa and the IRC, however, now I do! With abundant patience and understanding, they explained to me the software that could best support my project, then helped me to use it. This was no easy task. As we learned, there is great software out there for telling a linear story and great software for telling a spatial story (at a specific moment in time), but I was determined to tell a story that ranged across time and space, simultaneously. Kiru and the staff of the IRC did the hard work of making that happen using programs that could achieve both of those goals and perform technical updates automatically to keep the site functioning!"
This project is an excellent example of the value produced when scholars from any discipline engage with using new media tools to expand their storytelling capacities. As media theorists have said, and the rest of us know through experience, when you change the form of media, you open the possibility for new kinds of content. The use of StoryMaps to tell a story, as Derek describes "...across time and space, simultaneously," emphasizes the important historical truth that human events are influenced by the dynamic interplay between location and time. As an educational tool, Black Power in DC will impress this reality on visitors at every turn, fulfilling Dr. Musgrove's desire to emphasize important context through this structure.
The immediacy and reach of this StoryMap project also benefit from the use of this new form. Derek shared: "Since its February 1 release, the website has been a hit. In the first ten days of February it was viewed over 6,000 times and I have received a great deal of positive feedback from residents who lived through that moment in time and historians who study it alike."
Our hope is that success stories like this encourage other scholars to engage with the IRC, and to work with them to fund projects that can expand the power of their research
Author, and Lead Designer:
George Derek Musgrove
IRC Summer Faculty Research Fellowship award funded both by the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and the Office of the Vice President for Research