How One Organization Is Using Google Maps to Save History in the Middle East

By Ross Ufberg

Published on Pacific Standard

The Diarna Project is a geo-museum that merges maps, photographs, research, and oral histories to preserve the present and bring the past back to life.

On a recent sunny afternoon at the Center for Jewish History in Lower Manhattan, Eddie Ashkenazie, a tousled and bespectacled young historian at the Diarna Project, sits in front of a giant screen as he scrolls through photographs and navigates Google satellite maps. Beside him, Joseph Samuel, who shot the photos in Iraqi Kurdistan, narrates his recent voyage in the manner of an explorer explaining his sketches to a cartographer. He has brought back over 1,300 pictures and videos from 47 locations, and now he and Ashkenazie must, literally, put these locations on the map.

Samuel is a mustachioed, cigarette-smoking, sun-creased filmmaker who has been working on documentaries about ethnic minorities, including Yazidis, in the Middle East; he took a few days to research the Jewish history in Iraqi Kurdistan as well. Samuel is neither Yazidi nor Jewish — but he is passionate about capturing the stories of the minority inhabitants, today and in earlier times, of the region. (Samuel’s name has been changed owing to the sensitive nature of his work.) Ashkenazie drops pins in consultation with Samuel to demarcate places of interest — red for cemetery, black for shrine, brown for synagogue — on the landscape of northern Iraq.


Read more at Pacific Standard