Final Digital Project: Where is Dorsey Foultz?

Where is Dorsey Foultz? Poster Visualization

You can access the map here.

Dorsey Foultz is someone who has been on my mind for a while now. Since I found him hiding among the pages of Washington’s turn-of-the-century newspapers in 2013, his ability to capture the public’s imagination while evading literal capture has allowed me to explore race, policing, and print culture. Equally important to his story, but something I have not managed to examine to the extent it deserves, is the concept of mobility.

Foultz’s ability to be everywhere and nowhere is a unique product of the historical moment; the rise of steam engines allowed trains and ships to move people and goods with unthinkable speed. According to the Smithsonian’s America on the Move Team, transatlantic journeys transformed from five-week to five-day endeavors. Travel had become over 85% faster within a period of 100 years! These innovations in transportation efficiency influenced how Americans understood space, time, and movement. Through this map of Foultz sightings, I hoped to create an interactive visual that shows the extent to which the idea of mobility influenced police and the public during the manhunt.

Compared to other map projects (like PhilaPlace, which has more features and information), my map seems fairly simplistic. However, it uses the same concept of allowing users to understand historical information visually and in comparison to present-day landmarks. While most historical map projects convey information about distinct locations, my map sets out to show movement over time and space, which I feel is not as conducive to the types of interpretive strategies used by sites like PhilaPlace. In this way, my project is more similar to something like the Monroe Work Today Map of White Supremacy Mob Violence, which is lighter on information but does a great job at showing trends.

One hope I had for this project that wound up not being feasible was the inclusion of full primary sources with each point on the map. While Library of Congress materials have fewer copyright restrictions, a majority of my newspaper articles actually come from ProQuest Historical Newspapers, which I believe has more rights over its materials. I added interesting primary source snippets when possible, such as the supposed letters Foultz wrote from Africa published in the Evening Star and a map of the now-forgotten Jackson City (via LOC), but ultimately there are fewer images than I originally intended. In a future iteration, perhaps I could procure rights or find LOC-held contemporary drawings or photographs of more locations.

The most interesting thing I found while completing this project was just how much sightings expanded geographically over time. I labelled the sightings that took place during the year of the murder (1897) with blue icons, those that took place between 1888 and 1905 with magenta, and 1906 and after with green. Even just a quick glance shows that Foultz sightings began close to DC (the farthest being about 100 miles away in Harpers Ferry) but expanded to over 600 miles away in Chicago by 1909. International sightings, which tended to be facetious but were not incomprehensible, reached over 7,000 miles away. Color-coding the sightings helps show that as time passed, police and the public imagined Foultz farther and farther away. The idea that he could still be in the DC area (immobile) seemed more ridiculous than him traveling across the country in this mobile era.

Ultimately, creating this map helped me better understand my own materials. By reviewing articles for specific dates and places without needing to tie them into a traditional argument, I noticed different things. For example, when I originally found and wrote about the sighting at the “new Methodist University,” I assumed the newspaper was talking about Wesley Theological Seminary. Upon closer examination, I realized it was actually a reference to American University, which had been chartered relatively recently and was still very much under construction! I know the new information found through this process will be valuable as I continue my research in the upcoming years, and the map will hopefully help explain to future readers how much mobility mattered in at the turn-of-the-century in the United States.

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