Digital Project Proposal: “Where Is Dorsey Foultz?”

Last semester in Research Seminar I began writing what I hope will be a long-term book project. In 1897, Dorsey Foultz, an African American man who lived in an area of Washington, DC known as “the Camp” shot and killed another resident. He was able to flee the scene before any police arrived, and, though there were frequent supposed Foultz sightings, he managed to completely evade capture. Dorsey Foultz became a cultural phenomenon and sort of minstrel figure in DC and across the country, symbolizing the incompetence of the newly professionalized police and general distrust of the government’s ability to serve the public. Foultz’s story is a fascinating and rich case study of race, policing, print culture, and public attitudes at the turn of the century.

Because the Foultz story has so much to do with space and place, it seems only natural to map it. Foultz sightings–sincere or otherwise–covered a huge geographic area, including much of the United States and parts of Europe and Africa. I would like to create an interactive visual of these locations that would basically act as a companion to the book and provide details on each sighting in a way the text would not.

I believe the best way to do this would be through Google Maps’s My Maps feature. People have used this tool to create such varied custom maps as “Bigfoot, UFO & More Sightings” and “Shipwrecks” as well as historic and cultural tours of cities. Using My Maps would allow people to interact with my map within an already recognizable format and understand historic sighting locations in the context of present day neighborhoods and landmarks.

Because the Foultz sightings are in the form of newspaper articles, I would ideally provide a static link to the digitized article or page with each map point. My Maps allows images as well, so if it is possible to find a contemporary photograph or fire map excerpt showing the location that could be included. Another My Maps feature that will be particularly useful is the ability to draw shapes, as some sightings are vague areas (e.g. Tenleytown) instead of particular locations (e.g. Wesley Seminary) and would allow me to provide better information than choosing a centralized point on the map.

In a perfect world with unlimited time and funds, I would love to be able to add a 19th century map overlay that could be toggled on and off. However, this would be beyond my ability and the scope of this project at this time, especially as it would likely require cobbling together several fire maps.

For the purposes of this semester, time constraints will probably require plotting only some of the Foultz sightings, since there are well over 100. I plan to choose ones that involved purported contact with the public or police or happened in a particularly interesting or far-flung locale. I may also try to color-code or assign symbols to differentiate time periods.

One day (many years from now), I hope this map could be refined and linked to as a resource for those reading or teaching the book, as well as those interested in DC history or turn-of-the-century American history.


One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal: “Where Is Dorsey Foultz?””

  1. This is a really neat project idea. This kind of mapping has the dual benefit of being an engaging point of entry to the sources you are working with for potential users/visitors and also being a tool that will likely be useful for yourself as you start to build out a set of sources for the book project you are envisioning.

    As you go, it may be useful to set up a WordPress site or something like that, where you can post the screenshots of the newspaper scans so that you have them all in place you can go back to. That is, keeping and managing that set of clips in your own site will likely be useful in that you can then just depend on My Maps for the interactive map function and then can provide further context on each of the sources in a more stable and searchable environment.

    As you get into this, it will be interesting to think through how to use different kinds of colors and icons in your visualization to represent different facets of your data. The decisions you make about what to focus attention on in how you use icons and colors are going to play a big role in the interpretation/argument this visualization offers of this set of sources.

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