The Power of Place: Place-based Inquiry through Story and Education

February 28, 2023

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GIS technology is most commonly used to support geography education in traditional classroom settings, but its teachings are widely applicable to so much more. As a framework, GIS gathers, analyzes, and visually displays data to help individuals understand connections, spatial patterns, and most importantly, relationships.

Our relationships with our community, with our friends, and with our families are deeply tied to our sense of place. And for me as an educator, my relationships with my students have always been connected to what we can learn together about our shared history. But what if we could no longer find “our place” on a map? Or if our community was lost, silenced, or simply vanished? How do we claim or reclaim our place? And how can we as educators help our students reconnect with their communities?

 I found myself asking these questions after an enlightening experience when a colleague and fellow educator pointed out that the location of one of the largest arenas in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, was previously an auction block for people who were enslaved. I was floored. It was not something taught to me or that I knew to teach others. It was not available on any map nor traditional textbook. But I knew if I was to help shape the next generation of emphatic, informed, and global citizens and community members in my students, this history needed to be included in my curriculum.

 This revelation came in 2020 when I was contemplating how to develop a “real-time learning” curriculum as part of my National Geographic Society education grant. My planning for this work also coincided with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, when educators across the country were asking themselves hard questions not just about the education system but also about internal bias, deep-rooted prejudice, and the “whitewashing” that has impacted education over time.

These were big, universal questions and actions, but they were also hyper-local questions and actions too. My experience was the same — but also very distinct — from the experiences of my colleagues around the country and world. It occurred to me that nothing could be more “real-time learning” than connecting living social justice activism, community-led place-based stories, and the real-time experiences of educators and young people.

 Thus, 2892 Miles to Go: Geographic Walk for Justice was born.


2892 Miles to Go is a geography-based social justice education program supported by National Geographic Society that uses geo-inquiry techniques and Esri StoryMaps to document the historical significance of landmarks in local communities.

 With 2892, I am honored to work with a dedicated team of community activists, storytellers, artists, and educators living in Kentucky, Hawaii, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, all locations in which local communities have undergone systematic erasure of critical history. Together we compile stories from historians, fellow educators, youth, and others to build StoryMaps that capture the history behind cultural sites in their communities that have often been purposely omitted from traditional classroom settings.

 With these StoryMaps, like the Tulsa, Oklahoma collection that details the history of Black Wall Street, we are combining the power of place-based learning, geography, and social justice to paint the full picture of local history and empower educators and students to learn more about their own histories. Each collection includes learning guides to help educators and young people use the StoryMaps to deepen teaching and learning — and to inspire action.

 By providing the StoryMaps online at no cost, we hope they will serve as a catalyst for critical thinking opportunities in and out of classrooms across the country. These stories are applicable to all communities, not just the places represented. These StoryMaps can become the textbooks we wish we could have always had — voiced by many and rooted in collective wisdom. We believe young people deserve the opportunity to learn history and culture from those who have lived it, and that they are wise thinkers and leaders who will move all of us forward.

 Beginning with these StoryMaps, we hope to begin a movement to listen, learn, and take action guided by community storytellers who have led and continue to lead in these communities. There are 2892 miles across the contiguous United States. It is long past time to walk them together, and we hope you will join us for the journey.


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