The history of cartography is often remembered as a legacy of white men. With “imperial eyes” (Pratt, 1992), cartographers granted power to largely northern white nation-states through borders and names with the stroke of a pen. From the age of exploration to mid-twentieth century redlining, maps have shaped people, places, histories, and our identities. Ultimately, maps visualize a particular subset of information at a particular moment in time. When analyzed within their particular historical context through a critical lens of power structures, they collectively illuminate a quilt of information about the relationship between people and power.
CityLab’s (@citylab) recent post on “How Women Mapped the Upheaval of 19th Century America” offers a new perspective by evidencing how women engaged in map-making techniques that have been overshadowed. This article is part of a series by Laura Bliss (@mslaurabliss) who interviewed New York Public Library map historian Alice Hudson who had names of more than a thousand women who had drawn, published, printed, engraved, sold, or traded maps prior to 1900 alone. Bliss has also paired images with contextual information from Will C. van den Hoonardd’s book Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography. [See this really cool image of maps drawn by Shanawdithit of the Newfoundland Beothuk tribe c. 1829. who plotted memories of her tribe’s movements and collisions with settlers nearly two decades prior.]
This map by Agnes Sinclair Holbrook, “Nationalities Map No. 1,” from Hull-House Maps and Papers, 1895, (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library), visualizes demographics of nationalities in the Near West Side of Chicago as part of Holbrook’s work with Jane Addams’s Hull House settlement house that served these populations. From this image we can see patterns of immigrant aggregations in the neighborhood along with segregation. We can see how immigrants are being categorized – along lines of nationality like German and Swiss and language, rather than along lines of skin color [which evidences historian David Roediger’s argument in his book Working Toward Whiteness that reveals processes of labor organizing and real estate policy that transformed Northern European new immigrants into “white ethnics.”]
If you zoomed out, you could see how close rail lines and the waterways were to the East. As shown in this stylistically identical map by Samuel Greeley, families in this neighborhood earned an average of $7.50 per week working in nearby factories.
Do you know what a map of this area looks like today?
It’s a tollway. In the mid-twentieth century, politicians embarked on a massive urban renewal campaign to displace historic immigrant neighborhoods and communities of working-class people of color out of the city. This demolition would make way for a new highway enabling middle-class whites to travel from the suburbs to the inner-city for work. Additionally, huge portions of the neighborhood were demolished as part of UIC’s expansion campaign. For more on this read Amanda Seligman’s book Block by Block.
Although Holbrook’s work is significant (as well as fun and celebratory in light of Women’s History Month), focused narratives heralding the contributions of select middle-class women often read as more additive than revolutionary – at times reinforcing a liberal feminist discourse of “look, women were there” rather than re-examining how power structures have shaped the histories we hide, exalt, and define as part of our identities.
Ultimately, how can we excavate histories of mapping “from below”? What can we learn from revealing map-making techniques of migrant farm workers, the enslaved, prostitutes, meth addicts, or Civil Rights Movement activists? What would current folk cartography reveal about urban power relations today?
A student in my course “American Bodies” thinks back critically on the class, arguing that American citizens are defined by group-specific stereotypes that create different experiences and further reinforce misconceptions:
“We discussed many different forms of bodies that have all had distinct social associations connected to them. For the most part, white men have dominated society, always being in power and having authority over others. Those with negative social associations have always been at a disadvantage and often have been restricted, whether that be socially or under very specific laws created by those in power. We discussed how people in power have tried to regulate and restrict those below them often for nothing more than their skin color….”
In my American Studies courses I ask students to construct a mind map with an accompanying essay reflecting back on the course. The assignment aims to secretly get students to think about a structural analysis of power.
For this assignment, students were asked to reimagine the course structure by choosing a few of the course readings, films, lectures, etc. and lumping them into new categories and linking these categories and topics. It might sound a bit confusing, abstract, or a little hippie granola for you, but when executed correctly produces beautiful, thought-provoking images that evidence students reflecting critically on the course material.
First I’m going to give you the assignment basics and then I’ll share some of the best mind maps and their essays from my Spring 2015 course I designed, “Blood, Bones, and Brains: 20th Century History of American Bodies.” (You can see the syllabus for that course on my Academia.edu page.)
I show them this mindmap as an example and tell them that the center of the mind map should be their overarching argument — each branch shooting out from the center should be a main theme, and then the smaller lines attached to those main theme branches should be their evidence to prove their argument. I use that mind map example because many others that you can find through Google are not intending to evidence an argument and, therefore, tend to be more descriptive brainstorming maps than a tool for visualizing a thesis.
However, unlike that mindmap example linked above, students are asked to build off the main theme branches with evidence from the course. These offshoots from the main themes can be organized in whatever fashion they want. Sometimes you’ll find clear linkages and in other cases huge messy clouds of connections. A brief 1-page explanatory essay accompanies the image in order to articulate the student’s argument and evidence why those themes, offshoots, and connections/linkages were selected. Students can create these mind maps whatever way they’d like — via 3D model, video, Powerpoint, drawn by hand, or using some of these programs.
“My mind map is divided into the three units (Turn of the Century, World War Era, and Postwar) that made up our semester. Each unit is then divided into the topics of each class. Lastly, I added the distinct topics and concepts that we learned in class and discovered in the readings. In the middle of my mind map I drew a person to represent the common theme of our class, American bodies. I made him look kind of like a super hero because I feel like everything we learned throughout the semester makes the American body; no matter skin color, shape, class, race, a superhero….”
“It is not everyday when you think about people and their mindsets/values as “bodies”. When we start to think of bodies and how they are shaped and characterized by society, I realized how we start to perceive them. Bodies such as women, people of color, or those who are poor are seen as “weak”, “disabled”, and even not worth “saving”. These perceptions lead to the image they have on society. They are viewed as these things with the help of racism and sexism. Are these bodies really “free” in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave if they cannot even be seen as equal?
It was interesting to see that the typical “white, middle class male” wasn’t even deemed glorious if they were not muscular and well behaved gentleman of society. The actions that were/are taken on these people include laws, internalized/externalized judgments, and discrimination. Society chose to oppress those who weren’t fit for society. Women, people of color, and even “weak” men were oppressed without question and still are today. The progression of these topics led to dire consequences for society. Society was divided and there was a lack of trust for other groups and the government as a whole. This begs the question: “why?”. Why did we oppress and continue to oppress different groups of bodies?”
“The concept of the ideal body came from the readings: Modified Bodies, Bodies on Display, Regulating Bodies, and Bodies in Crisis. Each of these readings spoke about wanting to achieve the perfect or ideal body or of not having that ideal body (Regulating Bodies). Another strong theme was race. The race factor was in almost every one of our readings. It was what I would almost venture to say the main theme was of our class. It was everywhere which is appropriate since it is everywhere in everyday life….”
“Something that I came to understand is that the theme of Bodies on Display is perpetual, for ‘the gaze’ as you called it, is and will always be present. In this course, I was able to look at bodies from a new perspective. With my mind map I aimed to visualize essentially, how the themes we covered are interconnected. For example, a modified body is equally a body in pain and a body in conflict. Women who would change their images whether through make up, breast implants, or vaginal reconstruction (a topic covered in another class), would initially be bodies in a state of conflict, torn between what they believed to be true beauty and ugliness. Simultaneous they would be a body in pain, for just about all the modification process that we talked about came at some cost or risk….”
This student divided their mind map into quadrants: “When I went to first create my mind map, I knew I definitely wanted there to be certain divisions of demographics and then I wanted to place the readings, that related to that aspect of the body, into that category. I chose to divide the course into four different categories: race, class, gender, and able-bodies. Although these are just a few of many demographics, I feel like the readings fit nicely and evenly into those categories. While I have placed all of these readings into specific categories, they definitely, without question, overlap with one another in more ways than one. After dividing the readings into their corresponding areas of concentration, I then wrote a phrase arrowed off of the reading that explained one prominent aspect of the reading….”
Ultimately, the assignment worked pretty well in getting students to explore the relationship between group identities and intersectionality. Having recently spoken with Julian Chambliss about his use of infographics in the classroom almost as research reports, I’m determined to find new ways of incorporating visual and experiential modes of communication and critical thinking into courses that moves beyond strictly reading and writing. Have other ideas? Share them with me!
I’m in the throes of organizing a course for the American Studies program at Purdue on food studies – a class exploring the connections between food, identity, and place. Today’s visual inspirations are maps I’ve found trying to embed certain recipes within US regions and cities. What could you add to these maps? How would your map of US food culture differ?
For me, these are missing a fundamental food from my youth: pecans. I was raised in Leesburg, Georgia – a city with mostly suburbs that were rapidly created after nearby Albany was integrated to meet the demands of white flight in the 1960s.
My family moved there after our home (and thousands of others) were flooded during Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994, fueling new housing development in the largely rural Leesburg. When we moved to Leesburg, our middle-of-nowhere suburb was surrounded by pecan orchards. Miles and miles of pecan trees about 20 feet tall, in rigidly aligned rows as far as you could see.
But this landscape changed in the 10 years I lived there from about 1995 to 2005. Food culture shifted – nuts became more expensive and too caloric and fatty for mid-1990s diet fads. The price of land spiked – the push for new housing developments made pecan orchards prime candidates for new suburbs.
When I left for college, few pecan farms remained. Identical houses were built equidistant every 3-4 trees. “Who would want to live in such a maniacal grid?” I thought from our largely wooded suburb (woods that would be demolished to build more houses in the coming decades).
Needless to say, I would add pecans and walnuts to Georgia on my map. When I was young, I could find them raw in snack bowls on my grandma’s dinner table, sprinkled atop the sweet potato souffle on Thanksgiving, and forming the crunchy crust of a pecan pie…not to mention, right outside the kitchen window.
The culmination of each class I’ve taught includes 2 connected assignments: the creation of a mind map in which you rethink the topics and organization of the course and a 1-2 page essay unpacking the argument and significance of your map.
(side note: You can check out the course syllabus for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture on my Academia.edu page here. This 8-week online course was offered at Purdue University in the summer of 2015, and had 12 undergraduate students and 1 Masters student. Most interestingly, it includes the list of readings and films assigned for the course, although I’m always on the lookout for more amazing assignments. Send your ideas my way!)
This visual exercise frequently stumps my students who have never had to create an assignment like this. How can you grade it? What’s the right answer? How will I know if I’m wrong? And all I can say is this: “I want you to be brilliantly original and brief. Show me critical thinking and show me that you engaged with assigned material and discussion topics over the course of this semester.” It’s a lofty goal, but most of the time it really gets students thinking about how to put all of the puzzle pieces back together. It encourages students to think about the significance of juxtaposing these ideas, as well as initiates thinking about what topics or perspectives were left out.
For this course, students were asked to create a mind map on American youth culture and write an accompanying explanatory mind map. I encourage you to check out all of the mind maps on Tumblr by searching for our shared class hashtag #amst201youth. Here are a few of my favorites as well as my own mind map of youth culture.
In his mind map, Tylor broke down the course chronologically by generations (which offered an interesting counterpoint to the course which was organized thematically and jumped from past to present). Readings or films on each generation indicated distinct characteristics. He argued that Generation X was ethnically diverse, educated, and “their generation worked to live, and they didn’t live to work.
This generation was the first to not have to live through the segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.” Generation Y is family oriented, ambitious, and desires to make a difference. He adds: “This generation is the generation that are into tech, like the software developed today, is the result of this generation, their ambition and desire to make a difference. This was also the generation that experienced the zoot culture. This culture was a good topic in this class, because it showed how different cultures were adopted by teens in order to make themselves more comfortable.”
Finally, Generation Z is focused on technology and entrepreneurship: “Today’s youth are the ones we see with all the new iphones, ipads and all the social media account, such as Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. We don’t know everything about this generation, but it’s gonna be something exciting for us to experience.”
Destiny chose Prezi as the medium for her mind map, so I encourage you to check it out in order to see it in a better quality. Destiny chose to construct her mind map on four stages of being in youth culture as seen through the eyes of youth. In her explanatory essay, she writes about the different sections:
“WE ARE GROWING represents the things that youths develop as a result of the environment they are placed in. Like the LA/Salvador, and Dummy Smart articles, youths grow, usually against the grain, and begin to develop their own identities based on the geographic and social location they are in. Usually, they develop a culture and a lifestyle that they can fit themselves in after being rejected by ‘normal’ society.
WE ARE CHANGING meant to represent the different paths that demographically diverse youths take. Some allow themselves to fall into the socially constructed system, while other don’t. Like the podcast on Hispanic youth and the documentary Teenage, new communities, identities, cultures, and social norms can arise when enough regulative pressure is applied to youth populations.”
See more of Destiny’s excellent work at her Tumblr site here.
Ariel’s mind map is broken into four poles: norms, power, identity, and gender (nearly every one of Ariel’s posts offered a thoughtful feminist analysis of gender, so check out her work here). She gives a spectacular analysis, but I’m going to only focus on one of her points to give you an incentive to check out her full essay on her Tumblr. Ariel argued in her essay that visible aspects of one’s identity (like gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity) shape how the individual is perceived as connected to power and expectations of conformity.
She writes: “As discussed in numerous articles, a person’s race/ethnicity are often a source of power imbalance. As is seen not only in the articles but in everyday life, if you are a part of the mainstream society you tend to have more power in general while being a member of a minority group automatically grants you less power. From this imbalance of power stems the concepts of conformity and rebellion.
There are those who though they do not necessarily agree with the imbalance of power, go along with or conform. Then there are those who rebel against the power imbalance in whatever way they can.” Ultimately, you can never resist both forces of power and identity, the visibility of your identity (race, gender, sexuality, and even class) and the cultural norms granting certain identities more power. These forces exist together in an electrified web.
I pick up Ariel’s argument in my own mind map for the course. In thinking about how to visualize the theme of youth culture I couldn’t get away from the course’s initial organization around two oppositional yet overlapping poles: conformity and rebellion.
This course really interested me over time because it revealed how the central themes of youth culture revolved around how teenagers exist in a liminal state – youths are celebrated as beautiful, idealistic, pure, adventurous, and youthful, while they are also denigrated as naive, self-absorbed, dangerous, vulnerable, and juvenile. Youth culture holds so much power and yet youths are given very little citizenship except for the right to (and expectation to) consume.
Conformity and rebellion are shaped by social and cultural norms, individual wants and experiences, family dynamics (and I would add, historical context), shape behaviors and identities of American youths. These two tensions between conformity and rebellion shape the essential relationship between identity (who am I and what does that mean?) and citizenship (what power do I have and how are my rights valued in society?). Nearly every example we encountered in the readings or films demonstrated how youths in ways that both conformed and rebelled.
Miss Representation demonstrated many girls conformed to cultural norms of female sexualization and infantalization by sexualizing themselves. To engage in this self-sexualization is an act of conforming to norms of women’s sexualization in such a way that presents this self-sexualization as an act of rebellion. Likewise, in the chapter “Dummy Smart” from Victor Rios’s book Punished, Rios argues that young black and Latino boys engage in practices of creating organic capital in an attempt to define their own identity in positive ways that both conforms and rebels – such as wearing expensive tennis shoes to a job interview. These attempts, however, are frequently misrecognized as being lazy or disrespectful that, in turn, further reinforce negative stereotypes about youths of color.
Don’t forget to check out the syllabus on my Academia.edu page or check out amstyouthculture.tumblr.com to see more of our discussions throughout this extremely brief yet fun course on youth culture.
Having recently read Kyra Gaunt‘s essay in Generations of Youth, “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip Hop” as part of our unit on “youth and place” in the American Studies undergraduate course I am teaching this summer, I watched clips from a 1985 PBS documentary on double dutch called Black Magic that BLEW MY MIND. Watch the video on my other blog here. And now I really want to figure out a way to translate their routines via infographics. Mainly so I can break it down for myself, but also because I know how important it is to positive represent black girls’ athleticism, aesthetics, and power over space – especially via infographics since they’re really hard to find.
By research on how to do this began with Wikihow which breaks down everything from growing tomatoes to parkour. Wikihow fails epicly at conveying visually how to double dutch. They read like Ikea instructions.
The awesome epicness of this routine and Wikihow’s visual failure to make it any easier for me got me wondering – how could you visualize space within the realm of double dutch? Surprisingly a quick Google search of “double dutch routine” revealed nothing other than videos and images, with no step by step instructions. Despite the globalization and institutionalization of this once-street sport, the 411 breaking down double dutch is still hard to come by. You just have to watch videos or learn from a friend.
But what about dance routines? Could I use visualizations of dance routines to rethink how to visual space utilized during double dutch? This begins my exploration of dance visualizations, which ultimately offers an intense look of key dance components, processes, and the spatial meanings of dance.
These are the rules of dance club:
1) Dancing is all about where your feet are – in what direction they’re going, and which foot goes where first. From this viewpoint, your feet are always parallel with the floor. You just move your feet like you move fingers across a keyboard. Super simple.
Only it’s not so simple. Still a little lost? Me too. Here’s another version using a few more details regarding time to make it a little easier. These visuals excel for self-taught dancers because they’re only from the perspective of the dancer looking down. But where’s the rest of your body go?
2) Dancing is moving through space above the ground plane. With these side views, learning dance moves like the cartwheel (which would have previously looked like two feet print over there and two feet print over here) becomes much easier. These visuals define dance by what it looks like from the spectator. You now know how high to be above the ground, how far to move across the floor with a foot suspended, and necessary body angles.
Neither of these visuals capture what dancing feels like. In these visuals, dancing is going to get the mail. It’s loading the dishwasher or bending down to put on shoes. But how can we visualize what space feels like for dance?
3) Dancing is all about getting in a good mood. This visual breaks down steps into stages, connects those steps with feet routines and song lyrics, AND connects it all together with intense facial expressions. You cannot Gangnam Style and not finish with a cool pose, otherwise go home and practice the Mambo. Lots of arrows.
4) Dancing is about articulating your identity. Who are you? Because most likely, you dance how you want others to see you or how you see yourself. Are you a straight white man and want to remind your mate of your incredible microwaving skills? Want to look ridiculous and have fun doing it? Then Killer Infographics says dancing is your chance!
But there are just single moves. So far we’ve only seen bits and pieces of dances. Could you visualize a ballet on a side-view X/Y axis that charts momentum and energy throughout the entire performance? I think so.
5) Dancing is fluid. When you dance your body should seamlessly glide across the floor. You are one with the ground plane, your body, the space, the music or your mood or identity, and your partner (or spectator). When you moonwalk, you are not alone – you are one with MJ.
Here’s a final infographic for all you all out there still don’t know how to dance that breaks down your body into zones of appropriateness:
Don’t forget to follow Kyra Gaunt at her blog here.
I’m teaching an American Studies course this summer on conformity and rebellion in youth culture. A major component of youth culture in America over the past century has been the near constant creation of new toys.
An assignment for the course was an investigation of America’s toy culture, and included two parts. Part 1 asked students to dive into an experiential analysis of a chosen toy by thinking about what the toy means for youths in our culture:
Toy Paper: Toys are an essential component of youth culture in modern America and, as argued by Roland Barthes, “toys always mean something, and this is always entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life.”
First, read this excerpt from Roland Barthes’s Mythologies on toys.Choose a toy from TIME Magazine’s “100 Greatest Toys” list released prior to the 1990s, and write a 250-word paper in which you put that toy into conversation with Barthes’s argument. Visually analyze the toy – how it looks, how it moves, what it says, the target audience, marketing strategies, etc. Describe the experience of playing with that toy and the meanings and myths it reinforces (you might want to visit your local toy aisle and make a purchase). Post your response along with a Youtube video or image of an advertisement for that toy on your Tumblr. This advertisement should be a primary source and not a secondary source. Hashtag it #amst201youth #amstpurdue #amstproject
Second, students were asked to jump to current day to investigate the labor behind the toy. How does these toys, mere material objects, claim space in hidden, global ways?
Students are asked to choose any toy out on shelves today and investigate how the toy is constructed. Where is the toy made? What is its path to arrive in a store in the US? How is the toy made? What is the experience like for workers making this toy? Post your 250-word paper along with at least 2 sources (not Wikipedia), and a photo or video depicting a worker constructing/holding the prepackaged toy on your Tumblr using the correct hashtags.
Because most Americans never realize the often multi-thousand mile journey a toy has to make before it is gender-segregated on WalMart’s toy shelves, I had hoped that students would particularly reveal transnational trade routes. And I was thrilled with the response! To visualize this, I composed a Google Map with markers and paths from their factory locations to Purdue University, where the class is offered. Take a look:
What’s your favorite toy and where does it come from? How can we learn about our global patterns of consumerism by tracing the factory-to-store paths of our most treasured toys? My sister’s childhood favorite was the the troll:
I teach an online undergraduate course in American Studies at Purdue University, and today we’re reading a chapter from Julie Elman’s book Chronic Youth on teen brains. Elman argues that even though we’ve always talked about teen behavior craziness since about the 1890s when the concept of adolescence emerges, in the 1980s and 1990s a shift happens due to the advancement of neuroscience technology in which brain scans of teenagers are used to “prove” teenage craziness and/or normalcy.
During this historical context, brain scans were used to portray teenage brains as under developed, or “disabled” – often distorting the “collective care” rhetoric and principles of the national disability movement and reducing them to anecdotes of teenage emotional spazzes. In looking at visualizing information, Elman evidences how brain scans are called in to “prove” teenage insanity in the Columbine and other school shooting trials, while general racism is used to “prove” juvenile delinquency in youths of color. The problem, Elman argues, is that this seemingly objective science is used to reinforce racial, class, and gender stereotypes.
Since my students and I are having a fun conversation about teenage crisis, you should check out their findings by following the #amst201youth hashtag on Tumblr or by following my Tumblr blog here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/
In anticipation of their reading responses, I did a quick Google search for “teenage brain infographic,” and boy did I find a crap-ton of visuals arguing different things. Let’s see what we find.
According to this graphic, teenage brains are under construction, with lots of confidence, little judgement, and not enough consideration of their fellow teenage swimmers. Ya drowned, Bieber.
Teenagers are “obese,” “suffering” from back pain, and love “attention-stealing” devices. They will undoubtedly, as this infographic demonstrates, be prone to arthritis and old age blindness due to all the time they spent looking at screens. Ya blind, Taylor Swift.
And the New Yorker thinks kids are consumed with social media, rap, and hot white actresses (no offense Scarlet).
And there are more! Do your own Google search for “teenage brain infographic” or check out some images I posted to my Tumblr here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/. There are tongs of different ways that teenage brains are being used to “prove” that teenagers are violent, narcissistic, technology-driven, and prone to dangerous behavior despite tons of examples of teens on the ground demonstrating their eagerness to help others, advocate for political change, and promote positive consumption. How can we visualize those teens’ brains? And what does it mean to visualize teenage brain “normalcy”? If you visualized your brain, what would you find? Obsessions, habits, fears, drives, and memories? My brain scan would probably reveal a pie chart similar to this:
Make your own brain pie chart at https://www.meta-chart.com/pie. My husband also decided that he would make a pie chart of his brain after reading this post. Eye roll.