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Category: Chicago

Malynda Wollert, Spring 2022

This semester I had the pleasure of working with the Visualizing Cities Chicago team led by Professor Paul Jaskot while also taking his class on Chicago architecture, which allowed me to delve into research with a full context of the sociopolitical history and architectural/building trends of the city. We began the semester by focusing primarily on mapping the spaces of Bronzeville around the time of the World’s Fair of 1933 to demonstrate the duality of the progress of the Fair and Bronzeville with the lived reality of racial and community violence. When we began brainstorming, I was intrigued by the role that drugs played in this dynamic, and I began my research centered around tracking sites of drug arrests and activity. Our research was almost exclusively conducted with information from the Chicago Defender —Bronzeville’s primary newspaper —database, so the articles that I found provided not only information about arrests, including the perpetrator’s addresses and arrest locations, but further contained commentary concerning the community’s perspectives towards drugs and their place within the Bronzeville community.

A primary takeaway of mapping these arrests was their proximity to well-known and respected community structures within Bronzeville; for example, the headquarters of an intrastate drug ring was down the road from the civil rights landmark of Pilgrim’s Baptist Church. This proximity was highly related to the perception of Bronzeville and the Black population by outsiders, and the reactions to this proximity from the Chicago Defender reveal fears of the effect of drugs on the community itself and the outside perception. An interesting example of this is a column written in 1937 that discusses the presence of coastal performers hanging out at the beach, in which the author accuses them of encouraging the use of cannabis and propagating its spread within the surrounding community. Many articles discuss the necessity of preventing drug use from spreading to local teenagers, and other articles concerning the arrests of teenagers for using/selling cannabis disparage how drug presence within Bronzeville leads to the stereotype of Black people and Bronzeville being associated with crime and warns parents of preventing their children from following suit. This proximity reveals how the perception of Bronzeville as a place of vice begins and becomes reality as other ethnic populations enter and use the city as such, encouraging crime.

Later in the semester, our focus slowly shifted away from the World’s Fair and towards a more general mapping of all the aspects of Bronzeville during the early 20th century. We separated into three groups— community, context, and conflict— to better contextualize and expand our project. I chose to work on conflict and expanded my area of focus to a more general definition of vice and crime within the context of the community, while my partners focused on points of conflict between Bronzeville and the rest of Chicago and on points of political conflict within Chicago that affected the community. An article that is representative of the conflict within the community discusses the abduction and rape of two contestants in the Negro Day Pageant during the World’s Fair. The Pageant, intended as a celebration of Black women within the community that was on display for the city and the world, was marred by these crimes and demonstrates how the community felt as though their success was always clouded by darkness and provides insight to how their achievements were destroyed in the eyes of spectators by vice.

I found working on this project immensely illuminating and interesting, and it ignited an interest within me to pursue projects within the digital humanities further. Visualizing these spaces provides a way to examine a city at both a macro and micro level, fusing together the importance of individual events within their broader context merely by being able to view them holistically through data representation. Moving forward, I am very interested in expanding the connections of these local crimes to a broader context of American life in this time to further understand the development of how perceptions and external factors can dramatically, and here negatively, affect a community, both local and national.

Felicia Wang, Spring 2022

This semester, we built on last semester’s work on Bronzeville, Illinois by developing a more in-depth map on Neatline of historical locations and buildings. We also conducted more specific research into a greater range of subjects, such as historical monuments, arrests, and nuclear research, in 1930s Chicago. One of the biggest differences of this semester was the size and dynamic of the group, since we had over twice as many people as last semester. We engaged in large-group discussions about our topics every week, which helped me learn and think about how my topic, gospel music, intersected with the other topics like crime and gentrification.

Specifically, I researched how the evolution and “jazzification” of gospel music was perceived by various church choral directors. I stumbled upon this subject while continuing research on Bronzeville’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, the origin of gospel music. Gospel music combined the upbeat rhythms and swing of jazz with traditional church music to produce the clapping hymns we know today. However, some musicians, such as Professor H.B.P. Johnson, did not appreciate making the music danceable, claiming that it took away from the spirituality and authenticity of the music itself, especially if “jazzy” additions were made to another composer’s work. There is also an interesting dichotomy to be drawn between the nightclubs, where jazz was played, and the church, where gospel music was played. The church did not want to be associated with the “lower” lives and sacrilegious actions of the nightclub because they were working toward elevating the black community’s social status and perception in the eyes of others. These tensions were discussed in “Jazz Age Ruining Church Music, says Choral Director,” detailing an interview with Prof. Johnson in The Chicago Defender. Nevertheless, gospel music had an incredible impact on the Bronzeville community, inspiring the creation of music competitions with scholarships, national conventions to develop more community, benefit concerts to celebrate music education, and a sense of town pride for being the origin point of a national artistic movement.

The Chicago Defender contained a wide variety of sources to inform my research, including many advertisements and promotions for upcoming concerts, music competitions, and conventions. Prof. John Dorsey is depicted as a local hero, celebrated for all the musical and educational service he has contributed to Bronzeville and the black community across the nation. An article titled “Singers Plan Tribute to Prof. Dorsey” exemplifies how respected he was by local musicians, and this article was not alone in highlighting his many accomplishments and events organized in his honor.

Chase Pellegrini de Paur, Spring 2022

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.

Riya Mohan, Spring 2022

The Visualizing Cities Lab has been an eye-opening experience for me this year. As a returning member, I was astounded, yet again, by the innovation and creativity from my peers as we came up with new perspectives for analyzing the cities and expanding on ideas from the previous year. This semester, I had the opportunity to work with Team Chicago to better understand Black lives during the 1930s and 1940s. At first, the focus of our project was intended to better understand Bronzeville during the time of and the time surrounding the Chicago’s World Fair. Our main source of information and data was The Chicago Defender, an important newspaper for the black community in Chicago at the time and an invaluable source of information today. As time passed and as the team began to collaborate, the focus of the project became to focus more closely on the community within Bronzeville and mapping out the changes in centers of community over time. For instance, a few of the key terms for community we focused on included churches, clubs, education and more. Beyond community, we also focused on analyzing and mapping the contextual environment surrounding Chicago during the time period as well. This, as a result, gave us the opportunity to make new connections and understand community under a different light. Additionally, my main contribution was introducing the Provident Hospital to the discussions of community. After looking through The Chicago Defender, I came across an article that highlighted the important role the new hospital had within the community. The article especially highlighted the role various women from different social background had in the creation and maintenance of the hospital. My hope, for future semesters, is to better understand the role the hospital plays in terms of other health centers in the city, especially since the Provident Hospital was the first and biggest black-owned hospital during the time period. Furthermore, I also hope to better understand how the community surrounding the hospital interacted with other forms of community centers as well, such as the churches of Bronzeville, since many community centers overlap in various ways. Thinking more broadly of the project, I really appreciated the way our team used Neatline to display the work from our project. We used point-markers to mark and group important locations and had a time scale as well, so visitors to the project Neatline would be able to see the changes in community centers and contextual locations over time as well. This provided important value to the project as it allowed for visitors to gain a broader overview of Bronzeville as well as a more granular focus as well if they chose to dive deeper into specific points. My hope and goal is that the team will be able to continue working on and expanding this amazing project that we have started.

Kate MacCary, Spring 2022

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.

Joy Liu, Spring 2022

For the Spring 2022 semester, as a member of the Chicago team, I was onboarded with the continued work on the mapping of Bronzeville, Illinois. At the beginning of this semester, team Chicago continued to focus on mapping the relationship between the Chicago World Fair of 1934 to the social-political atmosphere of the Bronzeville community throughout this time period. Using Neatline and Omeka, our team mapped historic events as recorded by the Chicago Defender, a Chicago-based historical African American newspaper that is deemed to be reflective of the African American community, specifically the Bronzeville community. Combining the spatial data with historical event information, we aimed to create an interactive Omeka exhibit. As a member of the Chicago team, I focused on monuments and memorials within the Bronzeville community. I wanted to explore African Americans’ representation in the commemoration of the Civil War and the First World War.

In my research, I specifically focused on researching the Chicago Victory Monument, a marble and bronze structure erected at the intersection of 35th Street and King Drive, the heart of Bronzeville in 1927. What was especially interesting about this particular monument is how the bronze panels surrounding the marble and the soldier atop the monument were added 9 years later in 1936. The Victory Monument is culturally significant in that the Bronze Panels and the soldier that were added later were the first government effort in honoring African Americans’ contribution to the World War. More specifically, the monument honors the meritorious achievements of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, an African American unit that served during World War I in France as part of the 370th U.S Infantry. At the second dedication ceremony of the Victory Monument, Representative Charles J. Jenkins and Chicago mayor Edward J. Kelly praised soldiers’ deeds. During the Chicago World Fair, an exposition aimed to recognize the American progress, the dedication of the Victory Monument, and the recognition of African American achievement paralleled the progressive atmosphere in Chicago in the time of 1933 to 1945. While my research surrounds the topic of African American progress, my peers have focused on instances of race riots, voting suppression, and discrimination targeting the Bronzeville community. Our research revealed an interesting contrast between the community’s continued social issues and the progress it has made. This concept of contrast spring-boarded team Chicago’s later focus on expanding the project scope beyond the Chicago Defender and looking at Bronzeville through the lenses of community, conflict, and context. Working within the conflict team, I focused on exploring ways the community progressed that juxtapose the tension and setbacks. For example, the success of the first world fair took place in the Chicago Coliseum which focused on noting the accomplishments of African Americans in 1940.

Throughout this semester as a part of the Chicago team, I learned a lot about Bronzeville’s history and social culture through the lenses of the Chicago Defender. More importantly, I learned how to recount a story using spatial data. I’m excited to see how our exhibit develops if we have more time to add more resources and pieces of information.

Sunny Gao, Spring 2022

I am very glad to continue to join VCL this Spring, and I am very excited to see the richness and changes of the conference content, based on last semester’s lab schedule, we have added a lot of precious time for professor’s lectures this semester. At the same time, the lab is more focused on teamwork and discussion, and there are separate teams within the Chicago/Tokyo team to work on different topics. This makes the one-hour meeting time on Tuesday afternoons very valuable and exciting.

This semester, I am new to the Chicago team and starting a new journey of exploring urban issues. Our Chicago team visualized social and cultural histories in the city’s spaces. We began by surveying Chicago’s major neighborhoods to gather information about their social histories, migration patterns, institutions, and spatial development. The main task was to start with a major article on the fair published in the Guardian and try to pick out some themes. We linked them to some readings we did in the very important publication Metropolis Noir (1945), a sociological and cultural study of Bronzeville. So we started making an Omeka/Neatline map to help us think about the main themes in Bronzeville during the publication of the fair and Metropolis Noir (1934-1945). Because I don’t have much research and knowledge about Chicago, the most impressive thing is that this is the prototype of Gotham City in the movie Batman, the capital of sin. So initially, I focused on the issue of social security, what caused Chicago to remain chaotic today, is it a historical legacy? So, I found two articles in the Guardian that had a specific geographic basis, first, Introduction of Jim Crow in Chicago Suburb Leads to Riot. And the second was Army Race Riots Grow! Through these two reports, I learned that much of the unrest at the time stemmed from racial issues, and that the damage continues to this day. We then explored how to bring everyone’s information together on the Neatline map, how to use the timeline to present the information, and what colors to use to mark the dots. Finally, we completed this socio-spatial map, using Context, Community as shifting approaches to explore the main topic. For Context: Regal Theater, Southside Community Arts Center, CHA; For Community: People’s Forum Medinah Temple.

We actually put together some reflective discussion questions for the final meeting but couldn’t carry them out at the time due to time limitations. If you have a chance to read this blog, I hope it can cause some of you to think about it. What were your workflows, challenges, limitations, and triumphs? What major connective themes have you noticed through engaging in the cities of VCL? What were your takeaways, aspects that you want to input into their own interests (anything from course syllabi introduced in VCL)? Would you like to continue exploring urban issues in the future? For the last question, my answer is yes! I am grateful to VCL for giving us an opportunity to explore a common and dynamic approach to studying world cities. It was an honor to meet all the professors and students at VCL, and I look forward to seeing you again on campus in the future!

Carmen Chavez, Spring 2022

The Chicago team continued to work on Bronzeville with a focus on the different states and perceptions of progress throughout the city in between the two World Wars. Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition is proof that the city—or at least its elites—were particularly concerned with appearing progressive. In our first few team meetings we found many pillars of progress to back this world exposition theme—my primary finding being the creation of the country’s first African American art museum, the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC)—and then we transitioned to focus on the evidence of oppression that was hiding behind them—the lack of institutional support for the founding and maintenance of the SSCAC. We ultimately split this progress research into “community” (how Bronzeville’s built environment affected socialization), “conflict” (internal narratives that juxtaposed progress in Bronzeville), and “context” (success in Bronzeville that can be applied to current built environments).

The syllabus presentations and guest lecture in full lab sessions taught me attribute-oriented conceptualizations of cities. The most notable to me were treating cities as primary source documents and understanding built environments as functions of the interests of city elites. These sessions would at the very least reaffirm the themes we discussed in teams and at best inspire new directions to take our Chicago research. The Cairo guest lecture was my favorite because it was the least familiar city to me. Being Duke students and VCL fellows, we naturally pick up information on Durham, the active city teams (Chicago and Tokyo), and the city that we are taking a class on (a Duke Art History department staple that many fellows partake in). The Western bias in academia also contributes to this by isolating attention to white built environments. This is to say learning about efforts to digitalize Cairo’s urban history was a unique perk of working in the VCL.

In team settings, I worked with content-oriented conceptualizations of cities, for example, studying Bronzeville with the guiding question, “what lessons can we learn from their urban history?” I was in Dr. Jaskot’s Chicago class this semester (ARTHIST 339), so the back-and-forth feedback between class discussions and team meetings created an immersive learning experience like no other I have had. This dynamic created opportunities to revisit texts or concepts I had difficulty with, implement my lab findings in my classwork, and extend the duration of both lab and class because working on one inevitably bled into the other. A great example of this is the lessons learned question of Chicago’s “Context” sub-team inspiring my final paper for the Chicago class to compare material and intangible legacies of community spaces.

Chloe Alimurong, Spring 2022

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.

Felicia Wang, Fall 2021

Over the course of the semester, I worked on learning more about Bronzeville, Illinois during the 1930’s, specifically in relation to the church. Our group focused on the relation of Chicago’s World Fair of 1934 and how that affected the culture of Bronzeville throughout the period, centering our research around the book Black Metropolis. We learned how to use Omeka and Neatline to build an exhibit about Bronzeville’s historical culture. Personally, I added a few photographs of churches and newspaper articles to the Omeka exhibit. I also added the photographs on our Neatline exhibit to map the spatial and temporal relations of various churches.

In my research, I learned about the social impact that the pulpit had. Not only was the church a major religious institution in Bronzeville, but it was also the main social and political institution through which residents could express their beliefs. The church was responsible for organizing numerous social events, such as game nights, dances, and cinema nights, to create a sense of community among churchgoers. Transferring between different churches and denominations also occurred relatively often, since the focus of attendees was on the social rather than religious benefits of church. Furthermore, the churches held a fair amount of political power and hosted meetings for social justice movements. They advocated for social justice, educated their youth on politics, and allowed residents to exchange tips and advice to survive in a white-dominated world. Most of the churches were not profit-generating megachurches; rather, they began as community-oriented, store-front-style churches that made practicing religion accessible for all residents. Non-Christian religious institutions similarly operated as social and political movements. For example, the Moorish Science Temple of America is an Islamic denomination that fought specifically for African American rights. This temple also maintained good relations with the Chicago Defender, a black-owned newspaper known for its racial justice agenda.

The most interesting source I came across was a newspaper article titled “Why Go to Church?” in the Chicago Defender. The article consisted of a diverse array of interviews with churchgoers who told the interviewer why they attended church. The reasons were mostly not religious, with some people wanting to hang out with or impress their friends, while others wanted to participate in the social justice movements.

I learned a lot about Bronzeville’s history and culture in the 1930’s through this project. The chapter from Black Metropolis I read was interesting, and I would consider reading the rest of it at another time. I was also interested in the connections between all our focus areas, from press to pulpit to businesses to the World Fair. I wish that we had more time to delve into different sources and find more material for our Omeka/Neatline exhibit this semester. I am excited to build up our exhibit next semester by adding more primary resources and conducting more research into the era.

Jeremy Tang, Fall 2021

This semester in the VCL, I’ve had the opportunity to take a deep dive into the city of Chicago with Professor Paul Jaskot, Ph. D candidate Jasmine Magana, and fellow undergraduates Chase Pellegrini and Felicia Wang. We used St. Clair Drake’s seminal text, Black Metropolis, to analyze different aspects of the Chicago in the years surrounding the 1933 World’s Fair. While original plan was to make an Omeka site and Neatline, as we embarked on the research process we realized that between all of us, we had found so many resources that it was difficult to compile them into a cohesive project. For my portion of the research, I did a close reading of the Black Metropolis chapter “Negro Business: Myth and Fact.” In this chapter, Drake conducts interviews with Black business owners and and customers about Black-owned businesses in the city, specifically in the neighborhood of Bronzeville. 

Through these interviews, and bringing in business statistics as well, Drake attempts to tackle the question of why so many Black businesses at the time failed. Besides financial barriers — like being unable to secure credit, which prevented them from buying at wholesale prices and led to higher prices for consumers — social stigma also led Black residents to avoid shopping at Black businesses, believing them to be untrustworthy. One incident that particularly stuck in my mind was Drake telling the story of one cobbler he interviewed: “The Negro has no faith in colored business. He thinks I can’t fix his good pair of shoes. He don’t know that the Jew down the street brings his work for me to do. I do all his sewing.” Also as part of our research, our team looked through the archives of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper first published in 1905. The paper chronicled the Black experience in Chicago throughout the 20th century and proved to be a fruitful trove of primary sources to augment our research on the Black Metropolis. In a 1933 article, Walter Lowe the Defender tried to answer the same question Drake posed: “Why Do Our Businesses Fail?” He, however, blames the heavy hand of the local church, which connected well to Chase’s and Felicia’s research, which focused primarily on the role of the clergy in the city. The church seemed to be a throughline, not only as a religious space, but also as centers of social, political, and economic activity.

This semester at the VCL has been an enriching experience for me, especially since several of my classes had also touched on Chicago. Previously, I had never known much about the city, but studying its development in the context of race and the Black lived experience, as well as working with a team of like-minded and dedicated people, has been unique.

Chase Pellegrini de Paur, Fall 2021

This semester in the Visualizing Cities Lab, I was a part of the Chicago team which studied the city through the lens of the 1933 “Century of Progress International Exposition”, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Focused on the post-depression future, the Century of Progress was meant to showcase the developments of American industry in the century since the official beginnings of Chicago. Rather than focus on the propaganda that touted the engineering and technological feats of the fair, we looked at the lives of Chicagoans through Drake and Clayton’s “Black Metropolis”, which focuses on the Black neighborhood of Bronzeville, or Chicago’s South Side. This helped us look at the impacts of the fair as a temporary construct in a city with a real, permanent population with interests that would outlast the buildings of the fair. Our other window into everyday life came from the archives of the Chicago Defender, a Black-owned newspaper that reported (and still exists online today) on issues of interest for the Bronzeville community.

The article that I focused on most was a “What Do You Say About It?” write-in article, in which readers sent in postcard responses to the previous week’s question. The question of May 28, 1932 asked if Black Americans should have an exhibit housed in its own separate building, or if they should have exhibits displayed in several buildings on the fair grounds. In this case, I found it interesting that every published response was of the mind that the Black exhibits should be spread out through the fair. Many of the respondents made the arguments that the community should not segregate itself, and worried that being housed separately would result in the exhibits being banished to some far corner of the fair. This speaks a bit to the political purpose of the Defender, which was often a tool for the editor to push a desegregationist agenda focused on Black prosperity while still reporting on local and community news. I also examined an article about the possibility of hosting an “Africa Exhibit” at the fair, with some discussion of what it may look like. The authors presented it as comparable to the Native American exhibit, which was intended to showcase dwellings and customs.

In the future, I would like to take some time to examine the role of the Defender in local politics. For example, “Black Metropolis” discusses the election of a “Mayor of Bronzeville”, a role filled by annual elections. The Mayor, while not technically a government official, was expected to act as a community spokesperson by attending important events and advocating for the community. I would also like to use the Neatline software more, which allows for digital storytelling through maps and timelines.

Jasmine Magana, Fall 2021

The premise of the Visualizing Cities Lab, centered on the different ways we as scholars can construct an image of a city, initially piqued my curiosity for its ties to my dissertation project. In my own research, I consider how performance-based art practices and community-building exercises can make visible the invisible histories embedded in the public spaces of a city. Though I was able to keep this interest in the back of my mind, the VCL actually challenged me to consider a very different way of visualizing cities, one that I was not entirely comfortable with (perhaps even apprehensive about) and that is, the use of digital tools for storytelling.

Initially, I only saw the use of online maps, in particular, for its limits, their imposition of spatial, temporal, and organizational limits on cities that are constantly in flux and whose stories cannot be told from an aerial point of view. As part of the VCL, I learned about tools that extended the narrative potential of maps via the incorporation of other modes of digital visualizations (virtual exhibitions, historical images, periodicals and other texts). I was able to confront that my apprehension towards this had to do with inexperience and a lack of access to supportive spaces within which to learn these tools and put them into practice in meaningful ways; the VCL provided me with both of these things.

As part of team Chicago, I was charged with the task of visualizing one chapter from the monumental work by St. Claire Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Jr., Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (first published in 1945). In our case, the text dictated our spatial limits, as most of the chapters take place in the historically Black neighborhood of Bronzeville, and from the start we aimed to supplement Black Metropolis with articles from the Chicago Defender and images from various digital archives. This attention to text and image helped me acclimate myself to the assignment of building an online exhibition centered around a map. In this period of adjustment I was also helped by the questions and interests of the undergraduate fellows, whose research in business, public policy, and urban planning pushed me to put aside my own interests and fully contribute to a collective vision for an exhibition, a process that I found constructive and humbling.

The project was not without personal relevance, of course. First and foremost, I was introduced to a text I had not had the opportunity to engage with in an in-depth manner and connect it to a history of government investment in the arts. While pursuing my part of the online exhibit, focused on the social spaces of the wealthy inhabitants of Bronzeville (in reference to Chapter 19: “Style of Living –Upper Class”) I came across a treasure trove of digitized documents and images made available online through the Chicago Public Library. In one of those resources, the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, I found an image of a 1939 exhibition on view in the basement of the Church of the Good Shepherd (5700 Prairie Avenue). The research on display included 23 studies by Drake and Cayton that would serve as the foundation on which Black Metropolis was built. The exhibition was funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), an initiative by the U.S federal government remembered largely, at least in some circles, for its attention to the employment of artists, musicians, actors, and writers. This photograph effectively ties together two ambitious projects, Black Metropolis and the WPA, and positions this intersection occurring in a church in Bronzeville, an institution and the neighborhood that played starring roles in the project of team Chicago.

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