Mapping Black Central Europe: Digital History in the Classroom

The GHI benefits tremendously from the help of its many talented interns. The following post was written by GHDI project intern Milena Kagel, who first learned of this website at the Defining Black European History conference at the GHI in June 2018.  — Editorial note, Href

By Milena Kagel 

Every spring, Kira Thurman teaches an undergraduate course on “Germany and the Black Diaspora” at the University of Michigan. Since 2016, this course has included a digital history component – Thurman and her students have worked to construct a visual representation of the history of Black people in Central Europe by recording figures, objects, and events related to that history. Each student is required to contribute five entries to an online mapping project entitled Mapping Black Central Europe.

The map currently features around two hundred pins, each of which is connected to a detailed profile on a person, object, or event. The pins are geographically widespread, with the greatest concentration appearing in Germany. As a whole, the map creates a powerful visual representation of the significance of Blackness and Black people as historical players in Central Europe. Professor Thurman plans to expand Mapping Black Central Europe by continuing to plot new pins each year with her students.

Map from Mapping Black Central Europe

Biography from Mapping Black Central Europe

I spoke with Professor Thurman to discuss the project, as well as her experience introducing a digital historical platform to her students. She emphasized the positive response she receives from students, who feel that they are able to contribute meaningfully to a source that serves an audience beyond their classroom. While the public history component of the project is rewarding, it also presents challenges for students, who must learn to write for an online platform that is accessible to anyone. Professor Thurman also noted that while she now feels comfortable instructing students on using the data visualization tool Carto, the project would not have been possible without the assistance of librarians at the University of Michigan. Although Mapping Black Central Europe serves as an excellent model for incorporating digital history tools into undergraduate education, such a project might not be possible at a college or university without these resources.

Mapping Black Central Europe can be found on the website of the Black Central European Studies Network, a network of historians who seek to promote the study of Black people and Blackness in Central Europe. The website features a variety of pedagogical resources, from historical sources to lesson plans focused on Black history in Central Europe.