Visualizing Slave Narratives in Carto

Perhaps it is the old geography teacher in me coming out, but I really enjoyed learning about Carto.  The platform was  easy to use, and the layout was generally straightforward.

After working with the Slave Narratives in Voyant,  I began to appreciate the complexity of the source; however, the geographic visualization tools in Carto have helped me to understand that complexity in a deeper way.

The the individual documents in the corpus of the Slave Narratives are organized according to the state in which the interview was conducted.  Voyant was helpful in analyzing the variety of language used in the narratives within a particular state and across many states.  However, this analysis is somewhat misleading because the location of the interview is not necessarily the same as the location in the subject of the interview.  In other words,  what Carto analysis makes clear is that many slaves living in Alabama at the time of their interviews had actually lived in other states at the time of their enslavement.  Thus, to understand fully the experiences of persons formerly enslaved in Alabama it is necessary to exclude persons who had moved to Alabama from other states such as Georgia or Virginia from the Alabama document in Voyant.

Working with Carto is simple once you create a user name and login.  Click on NEW MAP in the upper right corner.

Next, choose CONNECT DATASET.  It is possible to upload a file, paste a URL or use datasets from the DATA LIBRARY.  Once the file is selected, choose CONNECT DATASET in the bottom right corner.


This action populates the map with the data, and the user may begin to STYLE the map.  The three blue dots that appear next to line of information allow the user additional actions for editing, renaming, etc.

By selecting the VOYAGER Basemap, the user can change the background map to include a variety of backgrounds.

Clicking on the left arrow next to BASEMAP returns the user to the map view.

Next, the user can select the “alabama_interviews” dataset to begin to STYLE the appearance of the data . As before, clicking on the three blue dots allows the user to change the name of the layer.

  • STYLE allow the user to choose from several different AGGREGATIONS such as animation or heatmap options.  These can be further customized by color, size, duration, etc.
  • POP-UP creates a window of additional meta data that can be seen when the cursor clicks or hovers above a point.  This does not work with the animation or heatmap features.
  • LEGEND allows the user to change the name, color and style of the information appearing.

After returning to the main map layer by clicking the left arrow next to the name of the LAYER, the user sees the option to ADD another layer of data to the map.  In the case of this map project, I added another layer of data that reflected where the interview subjects were enslaved in contrast to where the interviews occurred.  Thus, CARTO allows me to see that  the Alabama narratives document contains information about slave experiences occurring in many other states.

Finally, by clicking on the PUBLISH button in the bottom of the sidebar menu, the user is able to publish the information as a URL or embed code.

CARTO is a user-friendly tool for providing geo-spatial visualizations to many types of data sets.  The website provides a well-outlined guide to tutorials  grouped by subject and level of difficulty.  I find CARTO to be an accessible tool for a range of abilities and uses.  In fact, I was able to experiment this week with a project I will use in my own classroom as my students explore geometry, geography and architecture through the history of the Islamic world. While by no means perfect, I am excited about the ways that this resource could become a tool increasingly used by students and teachers in the classroom.


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