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People’s History map details the UW’s racist history, emphasizes student movement

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On Sept. 29, the People’s History group, in collaboration with the Geography Graduate Student Association, presented its newly published interactive map, “A People’s Landscape: Racism and Resistance at UW,” to a group of 25 to 30 undergraduate students at a Dawg Daze event.

The map is a historical guide to the university’s legacy of racism and colonialism, featuring 32 locations across the UW Seattle campus, each marked with a representative photo. Viewers can take a virtual guided tour through these locations or click on their respective photos on the map.

The People’s History group, under the graduate student coalition Divest and Demilitarize UW, began work early in the summer, following a request by UW’s Black Student Union (BSU) for a student resource that mapped out the university’s racist and violent history. 

“I think inherently it’s really important that people know the place that they live or work or go to school, because even if you just spend four years at UW, you're still within the system and you're in a place that has a really long history,” geography graduate student Julian Barr, who worked on the map, said. “And I think that became even more in the forefront over the summer with the protests going on in Seattle and the UW.”

The map details the cultural significance of Indigenous sites before the occupation of white settlers; the colonial and imperial beginnings of university landmarks, such as those of Clark Hall and the George Washington statue; and the grounds for resistance that contributed to the opening of student resources like the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center.

It recognizes the work of student organizations such as BSU, Chicano/a Student Movement of Aztlan (MEChA), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and many others that served as precedents for organized protests and change. The site titled “Future Imaginaries and Belonging” lists resources for students to get involved with the community through activism. These include links to registered organizations at the UW and within the Seattle area.

“[The map] shows the problematic history of UW — that there is a racist past and that UW can’t hide from these things,” Barr said. “However, on the flip side of it, it does show student activism, and it shows really the power that students have had to change the university, which is exactly what's happening right now.”

The initial People’s History group started with history graduate students Madison Heslop and Oya Aktas. By the time of the map’s publication, the group had expanded to 12 contributors across various fields and programs. 

According to Barr, the group first determined the sites they wanted to cover across campus, then began researching each site. Due to COVID-19, they were limited to mostly online resources. They referred to the UW-based Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, History Link, and articles published by The Daily, such as “A radical history of the UW,” which provided the historical context of the opening of buildings like the HUB and the Intellectual House.

Barr joined the group around July, bringing his experience as a geography student in making public, interactive maps.

“That’s when it really transformed into this kind of map,” Barr said. “Because the initial idea was a little bit less interactive, something more like a PowerPoint or something with a static map.”

Currently, the link to “A People’s Landscape: Racism and Resistance at UW” is published at the front of Divest and Demilitarize UW’s webpage. Barr said the group intended to expand its reach by contacting different departments to share the map with their students, and eventually host it on a separate webspace for longevity and stability.

They additionally hope to introduce a new submissions feature by the end of the quarter, where students can fill out a form to contribute sites or written pieces.

Reach contributing writer Jessica Wang at Twitter: @Jssica_vv

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