The embedded map above shows the current state of this cartographic experiment. A couple of things have changed since I began this project; first, there are now two data sets. I started out with simply the information from William Francis Allen et al.’s Slave Songs of the United States, which remains one of the layers in this analysis. One of my considerations as I continued my research had been to augment the collection of songs with other collections of songs. There are far more of these collections than I could have imagined, many of them titled “Plantation Melodies” or something similar. Others have titles ranging from “African American spirituals” to “folk songs”, the demographic labels in each title (which I have not necessarily repeated) making it clear in what era each volume was most likely published.

I decided not to accumulate songs, though, for a number of different reasons, some of which will become clearer in subsequent posts. For one, while I have been working on this project for some time and have, by now, developed a sensitivity to what musicologists might look for  in a map, I am not myself a musicologist nor a historian of either African-American or Civil War era history (actually, most days I’m a medievalist, which is why this project is so refreshing). Many times over the course of this semester I have had occasion to ask myself whether I was truly the right person to manipulate this accounting of history into a visual form (this is not an uncommon question, I think, among humanities scholars; whenever people are involved, information becomes messy and ethics become a necessary side-kick. For further ruminations on this subject, please consider the post “Who gets what history?”).

For another, while Mr. Allen and his associates may not have cited their source locations as thoroughly as I might desire now that I am attempting to pinpoint the information on a digitally produced map which would prefer latitude and longitude coordinates if at all possible, they did provide locations for most of their collection. Moreover, the foreword to the collection also accounts for some of their movements; the rest can be tracked through their surviving correspondence and the other documents which they reference (including newspapers or regular publications such as the Atlantic Monthly, which had published the songs from Lt. Col. Higginson’s collection before they were added to the Slave Songs collection). Even the “Plantation favorites” themed collections are often remiss in noting just where those plantations were located.

The second data set which I added, then, had nothing to do with music and everything to do with the people with whom said music originated. By incorporating the data published by the National Parks on sites associated with the Underground Railroad, and the likely paths taken by runaway slaves, I hope to be able to represent the ways in which some of these songs traveled. This is of particular interest to me because, while for the most part, the editors of Slave Songs of the United States claim that there is little confluence even between plantations and thus little spread of individual songs, the map demonstrates that there were variations of these songs even up in New York and then in places as disparate as Virginia and Florida.

The map therefore has quite a different appearance than its first incarnation:

Another key development is that I am currently using Carto to map my research, although I had begun in Google Maps and then thought to use Omeka. The reasons for this decision are many; primarily, though, I am having an easier time visualizing what I want in Carto, although there are still a number of qualities to my map that I will need a tech-genius to engineer for me. I may yet attempt transforming this data into an Omeka based platform, but I will now be able to do so with a fuller picture of what I want the end-result to resemble, which will make my upcoming conversation with said tech-genius much easier on us both.