UNC Libraries

Why a map?

By exhibit curators Hooper Schultz and Cassie Tanks, Spring 2022. 

As we collected stories and oral histories, it became apparent that the narrator’s lived experiences and observations were creating a rich alternative map of the places and spaces of UNC-Chapel Hill.

The map at the center of this exhibit is a visualization of the rival geographies people have historically created to navigate landscapes that have traditionally been hostile, as well as the experiences that give place and space meaning.

We presented about our work on Queerolina at New York University’s “Archives and Afterlives” Culture Mapping conference on 8 April 2022. The full presentation is available on YouTube.

Cassie: We decided to create a map of the lived experiences of the narrators using ArcGIS StoryMaps, which would be the centerpiece of the Omeka Classic exhibit. The choice to use this method to present and explore LGBTQIA+ experiences is grounded in theories and informed praxis.

Rival geographies 

Hooper: Cathy Cohen’s writings on queer organizing and whiteness have been central to the way we have developed this project in its attention to intersectionality and privilege. 

Edward Said’s concept of rival geographies was originally conceptualized to describe resistance to colonialism. I am taken by Sarah Haley’s work that extends it to other forms of anti-hegemonic resistance. Rival geography provided space for private and public creative expressions, rest and recreation, and alternative communication. We chose to map the spatial landscape of UNC in order to highlight how built environments can hold these rival geographies simultaneously  

Finn Enke’s investigation of the ways that lesbian-feminists have occupied public space in temporally and contextually specific ways has been useful for conceptualizing how LGBTQ+ UNC students have utilized the University’s campus and how they moved in and out of landscapes or bars that might have been seen as straight to the uninitiated observer. 

Intersubjectivity, or the way in which people of different standpoints and subjectivities interact with one another in oral history has been instrumental to the way we have thought about this project and its shortcomings. My standpoint as a white cis interviewer especially has impacted my oral histories. 

Metadata as a map, archive as place AND space, critical human geographers, spatial history 

Cassie: Hooper’s depth and breadth of theory and methods really elevated those that I approached the Queerolina map with.  

Post-custodial 

Cassie: Since Gerald Ham brought the concept of a post-custodial approach to the archival field in 1981, it has been used as a springboard for much needed reframing. One notable addition to Ham’s scholarship was the emphasis of ethical stewardship. A particularly impactful example of this put into practice is the work of Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, and Mario Ramirez. 

In their 2016 article, "To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing," the scholars explore how archives have contributed to symbolic annihilation, a term borrowed from media studies where media narratives "ignore, misrepresent, or malign minoritized group" [1]. The scholars propose a new term, "representational belonging," to combat it. This describes how archives that center a community "empowers people marginalized by . . . memory institutions with the autonomy and authority to establish, enact, and reflect on their presence in ways that are complex, meaningful, substantive, and positive to them in a variety of symbolic contexts" [2].  

The choice to create a map that is driven by the narrators recounting their histories, their experiences, is our effort to put this into practice.  

Critical human geography 

Cassie: Further, I borrowed theories from critical human geographies and applied them to the construction of the Queerolina map.  

Allen Pred’s theory of how place is made particularly resonates with me and lent itself well to this map. Pred’s prose is quite dense, but essentially, he describes place as being made at the intersection of the intention or "project" of an institutional power-structure and the agency and aspirations of an individual. Where these two intersect is how "place" is made and gains its meaning [3].  

The choice to intentionally geo-tag stories of hurt, of community, of sexual pleasure on a map of the UNC campus and its edifices of institutional power, is an effort to emphasize how place takes on very different meaning for people whom the institution is antagonistic towards and not shy away from it. 

Katherine McKittrick’s work also influenced the choice to present the stories via map. Dr. McKittrick’s wonderful work in Demonic Grounds is about the alternative landscapes and paths of experience that Black woman have had to create for millennia to navigate geographies created to oppress them. Although Black women have a history and experience that is significantly distinct from the histories we are uplifting with this exhibit, there are many lessons to be gleaned from her work. Notably, McKittrick’s work taught me that when presented within the dominant narrative, geography can support a fixity of place, space, and experience. When geography is presented as "natural" and "normal," it actively excludes any "difference" from the perceived "normal" [4].   

Finally, Paul Carter’s seminal spatial history work influenced the approach to Queerolina. In The Road to Botany Bay, Carter beautifully analyzed the making and history of place and space. What is particularly intriguing is how he frames the relation of spatial boundaries and the upholding of social norms: "to transgress spatial boundaries is a transgression of social barriers" and, to those who create and enforce those spatial boundaries, "this is a threat to the social hierarchy."To use a map to explore alternative experiences that break these boundaries is our attempt to challenge the social hierarchy of UNC as a place. [5]"

[1] Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, Mario H. Ramirez; “To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing”: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives. The American Archivist 1 June 2016; 79 (1): 56–81. doi: https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.56

[2] Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, Mario H. Ramirez; “To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing”: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives. The American Archivist 1 June 2016; 79 (1): 56–81. doi: https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.56

[3] Allan Pred; “Place as Historically Contingent Process: Structuration and the Time- Geography of Becoming Places.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 74, no. 2 (1984): 279–97. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569284.

[4] Katherine McKittrick; Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. NED-New edition. University of Minnesota Press, 2006. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv711.

[5] Paul Carter; The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History. University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Minnesota Scholarship Online, 2015. doi: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816669974.001.0001.