As a second semester as a college student and my first semester as a VCL fellow, I was intimidated. I entered the VCL lab unsure how I would contribute to the lab with minimal city and college expertise. Fortunately, Professor Gennifer Weisenfeld’s The Tokyo Idea’s perfect combination of digital, historical, and cultural output of Tokyo not only helped me determine to pursue a career in urban studies, but compelled me to provide similar experiences for other students taking city specific classes. By discussing the curricula for current Art History courses like Digital Durham to the Tokyo Idea to Chicago Architecture, I was able to find my place in the lab by approaching different student perspectives and learning styles. We rearranged assigned readings, chose what we thought best described a city, and added diverse course materials like videos, maps, and case studies. It helped being a student of most of the professors in the lab, as I knew the class well and I figured out changes their curricula could make based on my experience and helped me consider what I and other students would appreciate. I also learned about new digital methods that could be applied to visualizing a city like GIS that I hope to apply in the future.

We also split off into two teams; Tokyo and Chicago. Being a part of the Chicago team led by Professor Paul Jaskot, it was determined early on that our goal was to include the best ways to describe Chicago. In order to do that, we had to include all aspects of Chicago, not just the well-documented affluent communities of the Loop to the suburbs. As a result, our focus this semester was visualizing Bronzeville, a historically Black neighborhood located on Chicago’s South Side. Bronzeville is often underreported in discussions of cities and Chicago because the only source with a close look into Bronzeville is the Chicago Defender, the Chicago-based influential African-American newspaper. Given the Chicago Defender and the time frame of the beginning of the World’s Fair in 1933 and the end of WWII in 1945, we created a Neatline on our Omeka website that mapped Chicago Defender articles with our own topics of interest about Bronzeville.
Through our research, our team found varying articles that dealt with the expressions of the community, conflict, and context of Bronzeville. I became particularly curious in visualizing the role of fashion in community building inside and outside of Bronzeville. The Chicago Defender had documents of topics regarding fashion like the shows and balls in the Medinah Temple to The Fashion Corner, a column dedicated to all things fashion. Studying the Medinah Temple was not only a way for me to find a better relation to the city and Bronzeville, but it is fascinating to see that through fashion, the people of Bronzeville were able to celebrate the community in and out of the neighborhood. Through my research, I saw how sociological changes in the city impacted all aspects of life, including fashion.

As I end this semester with VCL, I feel confident in my ability to contribute to city discussions, a stronger interest in urban studies, and a good sense of my place in any new community I find myself in. After discussion and teamwork, I felt included and comfortable voicing my opinions. I surprisingly learned a lot more about myself learning about cities than I ever could have imagined before working in the VCL.