Vincent Brown is Charles Warren Professor of History, Professor of African and African-American Studies, and Director of the History Design Studio at Harvard University. He is Principal Investigator for the animated thematic map Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760–1761: A Cartographic Narrative (2013), and he was Producer and Director of Research for the television documentary Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness (2009), recipient of the 2009 John E. O’Connor Film Award of the American Historical Association. His first book, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2008), was co-winner of the 2009 Merle Curti Award and received the 2009 James A. Rawley Prize and the 2008–2009 Louis Gottschalk Prize.
Slave Revolt in Jamaica uses animated digital cartography to explore contested movements in space. The project addresses elementary historical questions—what happened, when, and where—hoping the answers will reveal something about why the greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth-century British Empire played out as it did, and with what implications. It shows how scholars can advance the pursuit of knowledge by creating narrative interfaces for databases of information, but it also raises important questions about the production, circulation, and reception of historical narrative beyond the print medium. Multimedia works of history can find unexpected audiences, but there is no necessary correspondence between the interests of the creators and those of the users. What can we learn from these multimedia histories that we don't already know, or couldn't just as easily learn from print? What can historians expect anyone to learn from an analytical story in the form of an animated visualization? I conclude that even as digital scholarship reaches and informs its audience in new ways, historians must still impart old-fashioned methods for reading and interpreting sources.