Mapping colonial Havana & experimenting with digital tools

I started annotating a 1798 map of Havana, in Thinglink, to pinpoint major administrative and religious building and landmarks. Initially, I wanted to use the map to help me think through urban space for an article I am writing. The article focuses on a 1791 lawsuit against a merchant of paint and hardware, and it references the three stores he operated within the walled city. Now that I’ve found their approximate locations, I want to be able to discuss them in relationship to nearby buildings and landmarks. I love how Sherry Johnson, in The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba, orients the reader to Havana’s urban landscape through narrating a man’s arrival and subsequent movement through the city in 1764. She includes details on dock activity, sets a scene of daily life in the Plaza Mayor, and comments on major parishes and convents — all of this imbues her analysis with a sense of atmosphere.

So as I experiment with digital humanities tools, I’m giving Thinglink a try as a way to annotate the 1798 map. Created by Jose del Río, a captain in the Spanish Royal Navy, the map depicts the coastline around Havana, the entrance to the bay, and the walled city. The Huntington Library has a version as does the John Carter Brown Library, here.

1798 Descripción   del puerto y la Ciudad de La Habana por D. José del Río

José del Rio, Plano del puerto de la cuidad de La Havana, 1798

On the Thinglink map below, I’ve cropped it to focus on the area inside the city’s walls. I also flipped it so the top of the map points north, and my version is hand-colored. The 1798 map itself includes a legend with points of interest, so I started by plotting those on the Thinglink map (place mouse over to see markers). Now I’m slowly adding descriptive information from Johnson’s book and other sources. (One challenge of the del Río map is the lack of street names, but I might add those with markers.)

As a tool, I find Thinglink easy to use and navigate. I’m using the free educator’s version, so I can’t use italics/bold or insert links into text, which is unfortunate but not a dealbreaker. In comparison, I have used StoryMap to plot the three stores of the paint merchant, but I like the immediacy of simply hovering over points on the Thinglink map (no clicking needed). Also, I don’t like that points/markers I put on the StoryMap  disappear if your mouse is not placed over the map. With Thinglick, the points remain visible at all times, as far as I can tell. Storymap, in contrast, handles a fuller narrative better, allowing you to include slides with text next to the map.

Aside from mechanics, one issue I’ve come across is how to include cabildos, buildings that housed mutual aid associations for enslaved and free people of African descent, on the map. In 1792, the colonial government, via decree, ordered them out of the walled city, and it is difficult to tell when they moved in order to place them (or not) definitively on the 1798 map. Given how stringently the government controlled the movements of free people of color and the enslaved, I think it is important to show their physical imprint in the city via the cabildo locations. And, new work by scholars like Maria del Carmen Barcia, Henry Lovejoy, and Matt Childs makes it easier to locate them. (See, in particular, Henry Lovejoy’s map with Lucumí, or Yoruba, cabildo locations.) I’ve included one cabildo marker for now as I ponder how to include more.

Lastly, another challenge with Thinglink is how to depict routes across space. I made another map (below) that uses numbered markers (place mouse over to see them) to trace a typical carriage ride route for elites in 1811 Havana, but I think I prefer seeing lines on the map that mark the journey. Storymap might be better for that. More to come.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mapping colonial Havana & experimenting with digital tools

  1. Pingback: Linda M. Rodriguez (NYU) on Mapping Havana Using Thinglink | Resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>