I joined Team Chicago for the spring 2022 session of the Visualizing Cities Lab. Coming into the lab, I had only little bits and pieces of experience with the city of Chicago; my only exposure to the city in academic settings were through Professor Jaskot’s A Cultural Analysis of Ghettos course, and a graphic novel course I took that included a unit about Jimmy Corrigan (1893 World’s Fair). I came into the semester excited to learn more about the city and to join a team that had an existing digital project – an Omeka exhibit and Neatline map –that I could contribute to.
The Chicago team began the semester by generating ideas for topics we would like to study between 1933-1945 and how we would mine information about these topics from the Chicago Defender newspaper. I decided to focus on cultural and museum exhibitions; specifically, I used search terms and date filters (1933-1945) to identify articles and notices written for the Defender about local cultural events and exhibitions. This yielded a handful of interesting results, and most articles responsive to these search parameters were exhibition reviews or notices. One article from June 3, 1933 notes the diversity of art in the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection, and how visitors to the World’s Fair could see art from all over the world at the Institute. Another article dated September 26, 1942 discusses how contemporaneous programs by the Art Institute (the “Negro Exposition”) and the Southside Community Art Center promoted artistic endeavor and access for African American Chicagoans. I also expanded the search beyond the Art Institute, and found notices for art exhibitions at the Southside Community Art Center and World’s Fair. Regarding the former, a Defender article gave a review of the fall 1942 exhibition “Chicago’s Most Photogenic Women” at the Southside Community Art Center. An article from September 29, 1934, reviews an art exhibition by Wilberforce University art professor C. H. Johnson at the Century of Progress World’s Fair; Johnson’s exhibit celebrated the progress of Black Americans in the preceding century. The exhibition consisted of paintings, photographs, and handcrafts – all of which were noted for being laden with symbolism. I added points to the Neatline map corresponding to the locations of exhibitions (e.g., Southside Community Art Center; Johnson exhibit at the World’s Fair).
Around the mid-term period, Team Chicago opted to use three conceptual categories to map and guide our exhibition. We settled on the categories of “Community,” “Context,” and “Conflict.” I opted to study “Context,” which comprises all of the urban development and organization lessons that we have learned from Chicago. (Our sub-team adopted the motto “lessons learned.”) For this phase of the project, I turned to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, and reviewed entries related to infrastructure and institutional administrative bodies in the city. From there, I narrowed my focus to the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority. I reviewed the major projects by these entities and asked myself, “What are the lessons we can learn from this project? Was it a success or a failure?” I added a point to our team’s Neatline map to correspond with the Cabrini-Green housing project. I felt that this project presents important lessons for public housing authorities and should be highlighted in our map.
Team Chicago’s spring 2022 project has been fruitful and interesting. I personally now have an interest in Chicago, and am excited to continue uncovering the lessons in urban development of the Second City.
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