Final Project for History and Cartography


Atlas Draft Take 2

I have continued working on my atlas draft and I thought I’d share the results so far.  I added two hand-maps, one of the United States showing the institutions for the feeble-minded in existence in 1924.  I researched the locations and used Google Maps to pinpoint the exact location.  Unfortunately, as of now there’s no way to export a google map as a PDF so I placed the locations on a map from Wikimedia Commons that I then traced in Adobe Illustrator.  My next map is taken from the Sanborn map and I trace the buildings that made up the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded that existed in 1918.

I also changed the alignment on the pictures as advised in feedback and changed the tone on photos to better match the overall colors in the chapter.  I was also able to fine a much better version of the Uncle Sam cartoon where it’s much easier to see details.  I’m still looking for feedback if anyone has any ideas on form or content.


Drafting Digitally

UPDATE: Commented on Sheri’s Blog.

I mentioned this in class too, but I wanted to write a bit about the process of coming up with a draft for a digital project because I think it’s very different than the process of writing a more traditional paper.  A paper involves constructing an argument using text, you build the argument a paragraph at a time and each paragraph in turn is built with sentences that advance your argument.  “Advance” is a telling word because (ideally) everything you write is moving in one direction.

With a digital project, it’s different.  You still want everything moving in the same direction, but “everything” is more.  As I see it, and maybe someone can modify or add to this list, digital projects have three crucial aspects to consider:

1. Text

2. Images: To include photos, charts, and maps among others.

3. Layout: How to arrange the text and images most effectively.

To make an effective project you want all three of these aspects working to advance your argument.  They should complement each other and not get in each others’ way.  It’s very different to orchestrate than just thinking about text.  In my time at Mason, I’ve built an site, a website, and now this atlas and each time I’ve had to practice this process and hopefully each time I’ve gotten a bit better at it.  There’s actually another variable that effects the interaction among the text, images, and layout and that’s the tool involved and your ability to use it.  You know you want that image to be aligned on the right of your text and have your text flow around it, but can your get the tool, whether it’s the CSS on a website or in InDesign?  The trick here is that unless you try you don’t know if you know.

So for these projects, I’ve developed a way of working on one part for a bit . . . maybe writing a bit of text, then switching to something else . . . maybe finding some images and then trying out the tool to see what I can get it to do.  For example, for my rough draft of the atlas pages I researched the history of institutions in the Progressive Era; I knew I wanted to have a map of the United States showing where the institutions were, I knew I wanted to have a map of the Virginia Colony, and I knew I wanted to have a chart showing growth in the number of inmates in institutions.  I had done enough research to know that I had the information to make these.  Then I started writing some text to build my argument about the role the institutions played in a time period that emphasized association and cohesion.  I put the text in InDesign along with just very basic versions of the maps and charts I used and started moving them around to see what was possible.  This took care of three of the pages and I went through a similar process for the other three.  The point is, I don’t think it would work to write the text, get it in final draft form and then go looking for images and arrange it in InDesign . . . at least it wouldn’t work for me.  I’d be interested in hearing others’ perspectives on this, though.  What’s your digital work process?

Drafting a final project

Commented on David’s blog.

For my final project, one of the maps I am making will be a map of the United States with the locations of institutions for the feeble-minded that existed in 1923.  I am interested in the growth of these institutions over the course of the Progressive Era roughly 1890 to 1923, and using census data and finding their locations on Google Maps has been an interesting exercise.   Some of these facilities have been abandoned, some have been sold to private developers, some have been converted to centers for adults with developmental disabilities, while others have been converted into prisons.  Of those still operated by the state, none have the same name and most changed names several times over the last 100 years, making finding their exact location difficult.  The Virginia State Colony of Epileptics and Feebleminded for example is now the Central Virginia Training Center and at various points in its history has been called Lynchburg State Colony , and the Lynchburg Training School and Hospital.  “Training center” and “development center” are common terms for institutions that are still in operation.  I eventually found all the institutions listed in the 1923 census report, 33 in all, and I’ll research further in case there are any I might have missed.

It’s been extremely interesting to dig into the history of these institutions and what I’ve found all seems to confirm my argument that the story of institutionalization is at its core a spatial one . . . about erecting physical  as well as cultural boundaries around the disabled and how these boundaries become mutually reinforcing.

GIS, Architectural Reconstruction, and Visualizing Certainty

Update: Commented on the blogs of Amanda, Anne Ladyem, and Sheri.

There’s a television show on the cable channel HGTV that speaks to the power of digital visualizations to convey an argument.  The show is called Property Brothers and the goal is to demonstrate how with the help of a real estate agent (one brother) and a general contractor (the other brother) prospective homeowners can get a house with features that would normally be well out of their price range by buying a lower-priced home and renovating it.  Every episode of Property Brothers plays out the same way.  The home buyers don’t believe the brothers’ claims as they patiently describe how they can knock down walls, install new fixtures and deliver on all the buyers’ requests while staying within the budget.  Then, the brothers bring in the digital visualization of what they plan to do.  Here’s an example:

Every time the skeptical homeowners see the visualization, which is essentially just the words of the brothers in cartoon form, they are transformed into true believers.  It’s a testament to the power of visualization to carry an abstract argument.

The power of visualizations relates directly to the readings and to this week’s assignment, the architectural reconstruction using SketchUp.  The readings from David Bodenhamer’s Spatial Humanities each deal with how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can assist research in the humanities.  In his conclusion, Bodenhamer notes that the positivistic assumptions, the pretensions to scientific certainty, that underlie GIS would seem to make it a bad fit for the epistemology of the humanities geared as it is to question those assumptions.  In other words, we’re back in the homeowner’s kitchen on Property Brothers — our ability to doubt seems to be circumvented when an assertion can be presented visually.  As Bodenhamer points out, though, this phenomenon is all the more reason for humanists to engage with mapping in general and GIS in particular.  Because humanists are practiced in questioning assumptions and noting how a given piece of evidence makes a proposition, be it an image, a document, a map, or something else entirely, it is especially important for humanists to understand how these visualizations are constructed.

Since we are tasked with making our own visual representation this week, it’s worth thinking about these same issues with regard to architectural reconstructions.  As Prof. Petrik demonstrated in class with the reconstruction of a Helena brothel,  recreating a 3D model of a historic building can produce new lines of questions that historians can investigate with their research.  I chose to reconstruct the Mastin-Minor building, part of the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded.  I used the Sanborn map of the colony and the one photo I could locate online.  Here’s the photo:

Minor-Mastin building, part of the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded

Minor-Mastin building

The building is interesting in several respects.  It is the first building on the Colony grounds constructed specifically for feeble-minded inmates — the institution began as a colony for epileptics only.  It is also interesting because as a building specifically designated to house feeble-minded women, I believe it must be where Carrie Buck , the defendant in Buck v. Bell (1927), the Supreme Court case that legitimized forced sterilization, lived.  Here’s a two dimensional image of my reconstruction of the building:


Creating this reconstruction in SketchUp forced me to reflect on the kinds of changes institutions like the Virginia Colony were undergoing when the Mastin-Minor building was built in 1914.  As I mentioned in a previous post, institutions for the disabled in the 19th century were impressive buildings, basically monuments to the science of medicine.  By the 1920s, they became increasingly seen as custodial warehouses for undesirable people.  State legislatures providing the funds for their construction were not interested in erecting monuments to anything.  The evidence I’ve found relating to the construction of the Virginia Colony reveals both of these dynamics at work.  The founders envisioned a progressive facility even as they worried about costs.  I think the Minor-Mastin building reflects this compromise.  It is not nearly as impressive as the Kirkbride asylums like the Danvers State Hospital, but it is not a warehouse like many institutions constructed in the 1920s.  This is a distinction that I came to appreciate while trying to make a Mansard roof using SketchUp.

Synagogues in Germany Project

Personal Geography in a Digital Age

UPDATE: Commented on David’s blog.

I greatly enjoyed Katherine Harmon’s thought-provoking book on personal geographies.  Harmon argues in her introduction that mapping may be part of human nature, which, in a way, goes against all we’ve read about the history of mapping which grounds the practice firmly in a historical context.  Harmon’s idea of mapping, however, is so inclusive of so many kinds of representations that it was easy, for me anyway, to let the ahistorical assertion slide.

The notion of a “personal geography” also put in me mind of the discussion we had in class as to whether modern GPS-enabled technology has made individuals more or less likely to think geographically.  My instinct at the time was to reject “more or less” and simply admit that it has changed.  It seems to me that younger people than me who have social lives (my excuses are 6 and 3 years old ) live in a world where geography plays a much different role than it did for me.  If I wanted to go out with friends I would call them, and we would plan on what to do, where to meet, and when.   If someone was late, you had to wait and wonder and ultimately decide if and when it was time to go on without them.  Now, it seems to me, with almost everyone armed with a smart phone and a variety of GPS-linked social media accounts, an individual can leave the house and immediately get a rich sense of his or her social geography.  You can see where your friends have checked in and decide who you might want to meet up with after you leave.  Being social doesn’t depend upon every group member understanding and executing a pre-arranged plan.  Certainly something is lost in this shift, but I have to think that something is gained too.

It reminds me of the maps in Harmon’s book, because like them, these social maps must be highly personal and individualized.  Rather than working from a standardized map, GPS-enabled devices allow individuals to impose their own meaning on geography.  Some might very reasonably object that this will lead to an over-reliance on technology and less interaction with the environment, but I think there’s an equally good argument that the same tools will be used to explore and communicate the kinds of personal geographies that Harmon has collected.

Mapping and the State in the 20th Century

Update: Comment on Amanda’s blog.

The readings in previous weeks have demonstrated that maps can provide insight into the history of the early modern nation state, the advance of European imperialism, and the American Revolution. This week’s readings extend some of these themes into the twentieth century and argue that maps played an important role in shaping car culture, consumerism, and even the Cold War. It’s interesting to me that even though these are very different topics in many ways from the readings that dealt with the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, there seems still to be one persistent theme: maps acting as an extension of state power.

James Ackerman examines the role of road maps in not only presenting options for Americans increasingly exploring the country in cars, but also in narrowing down those options to pre-determined itineraries. Ackerman argues that local boosters both produced maps and lobbied states and the federal government to build roads through their towns — a role that would eventually be taken up by a host of entities related to automobile travel including oil companies, hotel chains, gas stations, and auto parts stores. Of course, the construction of the interstate highway system that so facilitated automobile touring was a function of the post-World War II activist state with both its heavy investment in infrastructure and host of policies to encourage consumer spending.

The federal government grew dramatically after the war, and a major portion of this growth came from the defense industry and the national security state — a theme taken up by John Cloud. Cloud argues that present-day cartography like the GIS we’ve read about owes its existence to a combination of efforts involving highly classified technology as well as other open and completely public activities. Cloud explains:

Instead, a complex and quite productive ethnography of exchanges between unclassified, declassified, and classified programs and institutions evolved in spite of, and to some extent precisely because of, the division between them. These exchanges culminated in a system, still in place, in which the products of highly classified technologies are displayed candidly as completely unclassified maps and data.

Cloud contends that the products of classified technology need only be classified to the extend they reveal secrets about the underlying system. Additionally, top secret mapping programs required copious data, much of it open source, to be developed. For Cloud the hidden nature of this connection between the open and the secret parallel’s the silences of imperial maps articulated by J.B. Harley bringing full circle this persistent connection between mapping and state power.