A “pioneering” history project at Kwantlen Polytechnic University aims to show the connectedness of northeast India to the world 100 years ago.
KPU’s history department led a project to 3D-print a world map showing countries mentioned in a regional newspaper over three decades, in the early 1900s.
Using volumes of the newspaper Mizo leh Vai Chanchina, the project team scanned documents into a software program to accumulate the data.
“In essence, the software we used allowed us to take over 1.6 million words of text, not all in English, and isolate, and track the frequency of the specific terms which we had imputed into the program,” explained Lucas Akai, a second-year history major. “What we lacked, however, was a way to show the data in a more engaging and visual level.”
Thanks to KPU’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TLIF), Akai and history instructor Dr. Kyle Jackson engaged the help of two 3D printing experts, Birk Zukowsky and Melanie Bland, with Wilson School of Design.
Zukowsky’s 3D sculpture reveals people in the Mizoram region of India were highly interested in reading and writing about wider-world regions.
“We were able to quantify the newspaper’s geographic coverage and come up with a shape of the world it had been presenting to its readership,” Dr. Jackson said.
While neighbouring countries like China stand raised on the 3D map, Germany, some 7,000 kilometres away, “soars like a skyscraper” as a result of thousands of young men from Mizoram being drafted into First World War labour forces.
“One of a historian’s main roles is to challenge stereotypes,” Jackson added. “In Mizoram, the region I study in northeast India, one of the most enduring stereotypes is that the peoples of this upland mountain in the eastern Himalayas are somehow remote, isolated, or cut off from the dynamic processes happening elsewhere, in South Asia and the rest of the world.”
The project shows how the methods of digital history can allow students to go beyond the traditional 2D research essay, Jackson said, “and how starting conversations with people beyond the history department can help us change and enrich and be more creative with how we do history. The past is so rich and staggeringly diverse, and trying to incorporate art into it as a way to express our study of history has been wonderful.”