Mapping A Colony

ETHOS Lab is part of a funded Europeana research project called Mapping A Colony. The project is being conducted in collaboration with The Royal Library, the Uncertain Archives project, the Past’s Future project, and lead by the author Lene Asp.  

The objective of the Mapping A Colony project is to create an interactive map to highlight and investigate Danish colonial heritage. Since 2017 marks the centennial of the sale of the Danish West Indies (present day US Virgin Islands) to the United States, there will be a special emphasis on locations and information connected to the Danish West Indies. This collection was digitized by the Royal Library and used for the interdisciplinary datasprint ‘Representing History Through Data‘. Read more about the specific aims of the project below.

Status of the research project

Phase 1 is completed with the generous assistance of a community of contributors and the technical work of Mace Ojala, resulting in the prototype website available on

Read about the reflections of ETHOS Lab’s involvement in the blog post written by Lab Manager Marie Blønd.  


Mapping a Colony aims to:

  • Create interactive maps of Denmark and the US Virgin Islands, which highlight and investigate the colonial heritage, with a specific focus on the Danish West Indies, as it manifests itself historically and/or presently in these areas.
  • Disseminate Europeana API archival material to a wider audience.
  • Create a deeper understanding of how the colonial past is still very much present in our contemporary societies and landscapes.
  • Connect archival resources, map and photographic collections to places of historical interest in order to facilitate a conversation about them between citizens of Denmark, the US Virgin Islands and the rest of the world.
  • Develop a dynamic digital platform for the presentation of a hitherto underexposed, perhaps even suppressed, part of Danish cultural heritage.

Phase I

In the first phase of the project we focused on establishing a website prototype that shows the various possibilities for spatial/geographic mapping of history. This has only been possible with the help of a network of professionals, researchers and artists, who have generously contributed valuable material and information about colonial heritage. A special thanks goes to the team behind the Datasprint series at the Royal Library, which formed the basis for this project: namely Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer from the Royal Library and Michael Hockenhull from the IT University of Copenhagen.

Presently, the map features many of the well-known places and prominent historical figures of the colonial era, but as the work continues we would like to see the site expand to include accounts and stories about the lesser-known people of the era. For example, we aim to include a better representation of black West Indian communities living in Copenhagen, as well as more detailed insight into the lives of the enslaved and Free Colored people in the colonies, as well as documenting where slave-owners lived (inspired by this British project: Another potential for widening the scope is to include significant places and stories from the African coast to visualize the full global scale of the triangular trade.

As of November 2017 we are looking into the possibility of creating an augmented reality app for the second phase of the project.


One of the first things the Danish colonizers did when they came to the West Indies was to document land acquisition in detail through map-making. Obviously, the layout of the land, and their knowledge and control of it, would determine their success in this unknown place. For around almost 250 years Denmark colonized what is now the US Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John), until the territory was sold to the US in 1917.

The Danish West Indies have – as part of the Atlantic slave trade between Denmark, Ghana, and the Virgin Islands – contributed immensely to the growth and prosperity in and around Golden Age Copenhagen. The period is also known in Danish art history as the “Florissant Age:” parts of Copenhagen and numerous estates north of Copenhagen (including Marienborg, the present official residence of the Danish prime minister) were funded by and built on ‘sugar fortunes’, relying primarily on the extensive slave trade and slave economy.

This element of the Danish national consciousness is subdued. Not many think of themselves as citizens of a former colonial power. The Virgin Islands have asked for acknowledgement of this shared history, while some movements on the islands have also asked for a formal apology from the Danish state. Yet, even in the Virgin Islands, knowledge about the Danish past remains inadequate due to several factors, the most important being lack of access to archival material, language barriers and also – in many cases – traumatic suppression.

When the islands were sold to the US in 1917, and the Danish administration left the islands, all official archives, including images, photographs and maps went to Copenhagen, where the documents became part of the National Archives as well as the Image and Maps Collection at the Royal Library. These archives are presently being digitized, and The Royal Library confirms that the Danish-Virgin Islands’ West Indies Archives will be integrated with the European cultural heritage portal Europeana, through European Library, by the beginning of 2017. This project makes use of Europeana Collections while extending the collaborative contributions to include other underrepresented voices. The mapping exercise once practiced to document landownership and Danish colonization is now employed to counteract this same gesture by bringing forward the people, places and stories that have remained hidden or underrepresented. Mapping a Colony addresses this important issue by employing mapping tools and methods from digital humanities.