This semester in the Visualizing Cities Lab, I continued to work on the Chicago team under Prof. Paul Jaskot. While we spent last semester looking at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair/Century of Progress Exposition through the lens of Black Metropolis, this semester the team shifted to zoom out a bit and include a larger variety of sources. We continued to rely heavily on the archives of the Chicago Defender, a Black-owned newspaper. We also shifted our timeframe to limit our research to about 1930-1945.
I started the semester looking at the nuclear research at University of Chicago in that period, specifically with the success of Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first artificial reactor. Chicago Pile-1 was the container for the first human-made self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in 1942. The most interesting part of this story, however, is that CP-1 was located under the bleachers at Stagg Field at the University. This led to a bunch of great stories about foreign scientists like Enrico Fermi trying to remain inconspicuous while hustling around campus.
Continuing to follow the story of the bomb, the articles of the Defender continue to provide context for and reactions to the use of the bomb. The article that I found the most insightful was “Morals of Whites Dropped With Atom Bomb”, which expresses the disappointment of colored communities and countries with the decision of the “two leading Anglo-Saxon Christian Powers” (US and UK) to use the atom bomb against a colored nation. I had never thought of this perspective before, as the WWII history I learned in high school did not dwell much on reactions to the bomb, especially those from colored communities. Without using the term “white supremacy”, the article continued to link the ideas of whiteness to the atrocities carried out in Africa by Europeans over the centuries.
Finally, in continuing to build our Neatline exhibit from last semester, I joined the “Context” sub-team to try to build a sense of time and place into the map. I focused mostly on local politics, inspired by one of my teammate’s comments on the political machine of the time. I focused on City Hall as not only the official political center, but also the unofficial organized crime machine center. One encyclopedia referred to organized crime as the “grease” to keep the political machine running. I didn’t realize that Chicago still has a reputation for this even today. I found another source that mentioned Obama’s presidential run in 2008. Apparently, some of his opposition tried to claim that he was corrupt because he was from Chicago, and all those politicians are inherently corrupt.
In the future, I would like to look more into the politics of the Democratic machine in Chicago. There is certainly a lot of research out there that looks at the methods of organization beyond just the simple explanation of the spoils system that I would love to examine. I also wonder how the machine changed or influenced the physical landscape of the city that is experienced today.