Looking through the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) online collection, I was reminded of the importance of context for objects in museums. I scanned through the website and found recognizable and yet unrecognizable names and events. For those objects that caught my eye, I would turn to Google search to learn more because context provided a better understanding of the object’s story. During this search for one object, I found it only made me want to visit the museum even more to not only see the authentic object but also understand why one object might be placed in a specific exhibit and placed to other particular object. Even though there are connections through the online labels and tags, I am still curious about the themes and big idea.
For my object (as shown below), I choose the “Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River.”
I was looking under the “American West” section on the NMAAHC website and noticed in the object list drop down menu there was one map in this section. The map popped up and I noticed dark blotches on the middle of the map immediately. At first glance, I thought this was due to the geography of this certain location, i.e. indicating important land masses. I clicked on the title object for more about this map. I was very surprised to learn that the blotches were blood stains. Now, I had a different lens when looking at this map with the object title “Bloodstained map from Bleeding Kansas-era.” I clicked on the larger image of the map to get a closer look and then referred back at the label to see if I could learn more about the history of the map. At the bottom of the webpage, there was a brief paragraph on who owned this map and who made it.
This map has three stories now: it captures the geography of the Upper Mississippi River in the 19th century, provides a glimpse into the work of a French mapmaker by the name of J.N. Nicollet now, and, most compelling to me, the story of an abolitionist, David Starr Hoyt, who was murdered by “pro-slavery forces” in 1856. Many questions started to pop up after reading the caption. Why was Hoyt carrying the map? Was this the only possession of Hoyt’s that survived during this murder? Who collected it and where was it stored? What was happening in Kansas to earn the “Bleeding Kansas-era” distinction in the title? I am drawn to this map with many layers. I hope I can learn more about the life of David Starr Hoyt and look forward to seeing this object in-person.