Google Maps Recognizes Black Lives Matter Plaza

Washington D.C.:

Black Lives Matter Plaza

Here is WFTV 9:

A sign on the street now identifies that section of 16th Street near the White House as “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”

City workers and local artists painted the street that leads to the White House with “Black Lives Matter” in bright yellow letters. The mural stretches across the entire width of 16th Street to the north of Lafayette Square and ends near St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Martin Brückner

9781469632605.jpg.pngMartin Brückner is professor of English and Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware. This interview is based on his new book, The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860 (Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Social Life of Maps?

MB: This book had its beginnings in a map encounter and the slow realization that maps played a wonderfully complex role in the lives of early Americans. My map encounter was seeing Henry Popple’s luxuriously crafted A Map of the British and French Empire in America (1733) fully assembled and on display in Colonial Williamsburg. Designed as a wall map, the map measured a whopping six by six feet. It was not only the physically largest map showing the colonies during the long eighteenth century, but it managed to impress someone like John Adams, who, upon seeing it in Independence Hall in 1776, wrote to his wife Abigail “It is the largest I ever saw, and the most distinct. Not very accurate. It is Eight foot square!”

I found his reaction to be curious because it pointed to what I thought was an uncharacteristic response for an Enlightenment-trained actor like Adams: why would the Pennsylvania Assembly hang up a super-sized and costly map that would simultaneously broadcast its very inadequacy as a map? My curiosity grew when I realized that despite the fact that the Popple map was soundly rejected by the British scientific community, it nevertheless was prominently staged in colonial state houses and by private citizens like Benjamin Franklin. Contrary to my expectation, map accuracy was not all that mattered to early Americans. Instead, they engaged with maps using multiple and often contradictory frames of reference, from way-finding tool to theatrical spectacle and from empirical evidence to sentimental possession. Inspired by the diversity of map uses, I set out to track the social lives (or call it careers) of both singular maps like the Popple map and generic commercial maps by asking the twofold question: How were large and small maps embedded—real and symbolically—in American public and private life? And what did American-made maps do—really do—for Americans?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Social Life of Maps?

MB: This book’s argument, broadly speaking, is that American-made maps emerged as a meaningful media platform and popular print genre during the mid-eighteenth century precisely because the map as artifact and the concept of mapping had become involved in social relationships between people. On the one hand, the argument emphasizes that cartographic literacy was anything but a common competence; reading the squiggly lines of topographical maps, following map coordinates, in short, thinking cartographically was not only a skill and habit that had to be learned and practiced, but which in the process generated many applications and odd turns as American citizens took to maps as a major mode of social communication. On the other hand, because most maps were commercial maps and were thus considered by map-makers and map-users as saleable goods, much of their value—be it informational, symbolic, or affective—came emphatically alive during the social process of exchange. Examining the social life of maps in early America allows us to comprehend more fully the expressed faith in the usability of maps as a popular tool a large number of people embraced in order to shape their lives as individuals, citizens, or members of communities like the family or the nation.

JF: Why do we need to read The Social Life of Maps?

MB: You should read this book because I believe it will change the way you think about how maps work in American history and culture! Far too long have we undervalued, even misunderstood, the significance of maps by only considering maps as either empirical evidence of geographical knowledge or as rhetorical representation of political power. But if you read this book, you will discover that Americans had access to a vast array of commercial and home-made maps. These maps were not only best-sellers and available to a highly diverse audience, but they were prominent participants, even agents of change, in the new nation’s changing cultural landscape. From map giants imitating the size of the Popple map to flashy handkerchief maps, from cheap pocket maps to elaborately drawn and embroidered school maps, American-made maps helped shape the public sphere and new business models; they were prominent display objects in people’s homes; they were cherished as gifts and heirlooms; they were essential to the curricula of the nation’s educational systems; and above all, because they were widely available as visual and decorative objects, the very look of American maps defined the way in which people looked at pictures and their personal surroundings, be it indoors and outdoors. After reading this book, you will think about historical maps in new and different ways.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MB: I came to American history gradually and by following a circuitous path. As a student and teacher of early American literature, I always felt that it was my second job to always historicize the words and images I found in sermons and poems, plays and novels. But from the moment that I discovered that maps played a crucial role in early American literature, I became fascinated by the history of cartography, especially the “new history” of cartography and its attending focus on the production of maps, the role of industrial print culture, the social history of consumption, not to mention historical archives including wills, inventories, and sales records. While I now read maps through the lenses of being a textual historian, material culture specialist, and a map historian, my take on American history is deeply informed by the fact that I am an immigrant and that therefore I constantly look at American history and the maps that represent it in order to better understand my new home when thinking, for example, about its roads that are set up in grid patterns, its fascination with landed property and neighborhoods, or the way in which its public media opts to represent data as different as the weather or election results.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I am currently working on three interrelated projects, all of which explore the relationship between American literature, material culture, and the history of capitalism. I am currently co-editing a volume investigating the phenomenon of fugitive archives; the contributors examine the facts and fictions surrounding the loss and recovery of archives or archived objects, including their structures, uses, and the challenge they pose for the curation of personal and communal experience. My second project is a digital database called “ThingStor” and is conceived to become a material culture database for finding and cross-referencing material objects cited in American literature and the visual arts. You can view its prototype (and actively contribute to it) at www.materialculture.udel.edu. Finally, my next research project examines the cultural history of “literary things” and the American tradition of object narratives; this book project explores in particular the transfer of popular fiction into material forms and the way in which these were packaged and sold in an emergent marketplace rife with mass-marketing, cross-over products, and the vertical integration of cultural forms.

JF: Thanks, Martin!

Library of Congress Places 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online

sanborn-maps-logo-1911-pennsylvania-allentown

This is huge.  We uses these maps for our Digital Harrisburg Project at Messiah College.

Here is a taste of the press release:

The Library of Congress has placed online nearly 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which depict the structure and use of buildings in U.S. cities and towns. Maps will be added monthly until 2020, for a total of approximately 500,000.

The online collection now features maps published prior to 1900.  The states available include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Alaska is also online, with maps published through the early 1960s.  By 2020, all the states will be online, showing maps from the late 1880s through the early 1960s.

In collaboration with the Library’s Geography and Map Division, Historical Information Gatherers digitized the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps during a 16-month period at the Library of Congress.  The Library is in the process of adding metadata and placing the digitized, public-domain maps on its website. 

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, urban planners, teachers or anyone with a personal connection to a community, street or building.  The maps depict more than 12,000 American towns and cities.  They show the size, shape and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures.  They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.  House and block numbers are identified.  They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes and fire hydrants.

In the 19th century, specialized maps were originally prepared for the exclusive use of fire insurance companies and underwriters.  Those companies needed accurate, current and detailed information about the properties they were insuring. The Sanborn Map Company was created around 1866 in the United States in response to this need and began publishing and registering maps for copyright. The Library of Congress acquired the maps through copyright deposit, and the collection grew to 700,000 individual sheets. The insurance industry eventually phased out use of the maps and Sanborn stopped producing updates in the late 1970s.

I have spent far too much time looking at these maps this weekend.  You can view them here.

The New York Public Library’s Map Collection Will Be Digitized

435,000 maps in all.  What a time to be a historian!

From Mental Floss:

Thanks in part to a grant from the Knight Foundation, the NYPL is currently in the process of digitizing their extensive map collection. So far, the institution has only processed 33,000 maps, but by the time they’re finished, a staggering 435,000 documents will have been uploaded online for the public’s perusing pleasure.
Many maps in the collection were drawn after New York City’s Great Fire of 1835 destroyed 17 blocks of Manhattan. Surviving insurers employed a cartographer to sketch a series of maps depicting wards and neighborhoods they couldn’t scope out themselves. The artist’s detailed renderings depict small businesses, streets, and buildings, revealing snapshots of a long-vanished city.
The NYPL might be the brains behind the project, but a volunteer task force comprised of more than 1000 members is responsible for manually inputting or double-checking map data that the institution’s computers don’t recognize. Interested in lending the library a hand, or simply love looking at old maps? Find out more about the crowdsourced project on the NYPL’s website. 

Mapping Migration in the United States in 2012, 1950, and 1900

Thanks to Jonathan Wilson for bringing this New York Times map to my attention via his Facebook page.

It shows which states are the most homegrown and which states are populated largely by people who were not born in that particular state. 

You can also compare the percentage of people born in a given state in 2012 with the same information for 1950 and 1900.

Here is a taste of the introduction to the map, written by Gregor Aisch and Robert Gebeloff:

On Thursday, we published a series of interactive charts showing how Americans have moved between states since 1900. The charts show striking patterns for many states: You can trace the rise of migrant and immigrant populations all along the Southwest, particularly in Texas and Arizona; the influx of New Yorkers and other Northeasterners into Florida starting in the 1970s; and the growth in the Southern share of the Illinois population during the Great Migration.

In 1900, 95 percent of the people living in the Carolinas were born there, with similarly high numbers all through the Southeast. More than a hundred years later, those percentages are nearly cut in half.

Taken individually, each state tells its own story, and each makes for fascinating reading. As a follow-up, here is the big picture: a map showing all of the states at a given time.Each shape represents where the people living in a state were born. Within a state, larger shapes mean a group makes up a larger share of the population.

Pennsylvania, the state where I live, is one of the most homegrown states in the U.S.  This is why my daughters were always the only kids who did not have a grandparent in attendance at “Grandparent’s Day” in elementary school.  (Their grandparents lives in New Jersey and Colorado).  

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia

Check out this map.  

Here is what you are looking at:

The Philadelphia Historical Commission launched their new Philadelphia Register of Historic Places interactive map today. View it HERE. The site highlights individual local register properties and districts with the names, addresses and designation dates of each structure and is a welcome upgrade from the previous historic registry PDF data source on the Historical Commission’s website.
The map was created by the Streets Department’s GIS staff under the direction of the Historical Commission and is currently online in beta form. Jon Farnham, executive director of the Historical Commission, says that the map is still under review and, as it is further developed, mistakes may be present. “We will eventually have the City IT people update our website to locate the map on the Register page,” says Farnham. The Philadelphia Register lists over 3,000 designated historic places and includes buildings, structures, objects, interiors, sites, and districts.

The First Published Map of the American Revolution

This is very cool.  Historian Allison Lange discusses the first published map of the American Revolution.  It is housed at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA.  

Here is a taste of her post at the AAS blog, “Past is Present”:

A Plan of the Town and Harbour of Boston was published in London on July 29, 1775, three months after the battles. Little is known about the mapmaker. He may have witnessed the skirmishes and sent his manuscript across the Atlantic to London engraver C. Hall. Or, De Costa could have drawn the original map in London using information from the battle and an existing survey of the area. He dedicated his plan to Richard Whitworth, a Member of Parliament from 1768 to 1780, who was likely his patron.

Unlike most of the era’s battle maps, De Costa’s is a pictorial map. He illustrated the progression of troops using human figures rather than rectilinear blocks. Small groups of soldiers represent the British troops’ march to Concord and back. They fire at their opponents, and the wounded figures fall to the ground. De Costa represented encampments with tents and cannons and showed specific British ships, labeled in his key, in the Boston harbor.


Where America Came From

This is a fascinating map.  It shows the ancestry with the largest population in every county in the United States based on the 2000 census.  Here are the rankings:

1.  Germans
2.  African Americans
3.  Irish
4.  Mexicans
5.  English
6. “Americans” (People who label themselves this way or do not know their ancestry)
7.  Italians
8.  Polish
9.  French

No state has one ethnicity that dominates every county, but Pennsylvania (German), Wisconsin (German), Massachusetts, (Irish), Maine (English), Utah (English), and Nebraska (German) come very close.

A few more observations:

  • Notice the Dutch enclaves in Western Michigan and south central Iowa.
  • Why do so many people in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, the western portion of Virginia, Arkansas, and western North Carolina identify as “Americans?”
  • South Carolina and Mississippi have the strongest concentrations of African Americans.
  • New York metropolitan area is dominated by Italians
  • I didn’t know that there we so many Finns in northern Wisconsin
  • Note the Italian enclave in south Florida

OK immigration historians and historians of ethnicity, have at it.

Manhattan’s Expanding Boundaries

As Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan writes at the blog Gizmodo, “you don’t get to eight million inhabitants without making a few landfills.”  Check out these maps to see how Manhattan has expanded over the last 250 years.  Here is a taste of Campbell-Dollaghan’s introduction to the maps:

Ellis Island? Built on landfill, in part. Rikers too. FDR Drive, the World Financial Center, and Battery Park City: yep, they’re all sitting on piles of dirt and trash. In fact, it’s remarkable the East River still exists—a plan from 1911 proposed infilling the river (and parts of the harbor) to reclaim fifty square miles of land.
Manhattan’s topography—real and artificial—reentered public consciousness late last year, after Hurricane Sandy submerged parts of Lower Manhattan. Some engineers think it’s time to expand the shoreline even further to create “soft edges” to absorb the impact of the storm surge—a strange return to the city’s earliest incarnation as a marshland. As politicians and advocates are suddenly refocusing on the waterfront, the map is liable to change yet again—only this time, it’ll be to repair and fortify the city against coming storms.

Historic Maps at the Digital Public Library of America

This article at The Atlantic calls our attention to the 38,000 historical maps from the collection of David Rumsey that can be found at the Digital Public Library of America.  Here is a taste:

More than three decades ago, David Rumsey began building a map collection. By the mid-90s he had thousands and thousands of maps to call his own — and his alone. He wanted to share them with the public.

He could have donated them to the Library of Congress, but Rumsey had even bigger ideas: the Internet. “With (some) institutions, the access you can get is not nearly as much as the Internet might provide,” Rumsey told Wired more than a decade ago. “I realized I could reach a much larger audience with the Internet.”

Bit by bit, Rumsey digitized his collection — up to 38,000 maps and other items — along the way developing software that made it easier for people to explore the maps and 3D objects such as globes online. Today, the Digital Public Library of America announced that Rumsey’s collection would now be available through the DPLA portal, placing the maps into the deeper and broader context of the DPLA’s other holdings.

“I am very excited to have my digital library of historical maps added to the DPLA,” Rumsey was quoted as saying in a DPLA press release. “Maps tell stories that complement texts, images, and other resources found in the growing DPLA library.”

Digital Maps

I am fascinated by this, but I know absolutely nothing about it.  Patricia Cohen has a very helpful article at The New York Times on the way Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is transforming our historical understanding.  I am convinced that any undergraduate or graduate students interested in a career in public history needs to be able to use this technology.  Here is a taste:

Today visitors to Gettysburg can climb to the cupola of the Lutheran seminary, where Lee stationed himself on July 2, the second day of fighting; or stand on Seminary Ridge, where the next day Lee watched from behind the Confederate lines as thousands of his men advanced across the open farmland to their deaths in the notorious Pickett’s Charge. But they won’t see what the general saw because the intervening years have altered the topography. Over the decades a quarry, a reservoir, different plants and trees have been added, and elevations have changed as a result of mechanical plowing and erosion.

Geographic Information Systems, known as GIS, allowed Ms. Knowles and her colleagues to recreate a digital version of the original Gettysburg battlefield from historical maps, documented descriptions of troop positions and scenery, and renderings of historic roads, fences, buildings and vegetation. “The only way I knew how to answer the question,” about what Lee saw, Ms. Knowles said, “was to recreate the ground digitally using GIS and then ask the GIS program: What can you see from a certain position on the digital landscape, and what can you not see?”  

She said her work helps “make Lee’s dilemma more vivid and personal.” Nineteenth-century military leaders relied primarily on their own eyes, and small differences in elevation were strategically important. “Lee probably could not have possibly seen the massive federal forces building up on the eastern side of the battlefield on Day 2 during the famous attack on Little Round Top,” Ms. Knowles said. “He had to make decisions with really inadequate information.”