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.

Digital History Project Draft – Where Is Dorsey Foultz?

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been working on a custom Google Map representing the (supposed) movement of Dorsey Foultz between 1897 and 1911.

Here is an image of what the map looks like fully zoomed out (note that this view effectively hides the earliest sightings):

Sightings that occurred in 1897 I labeled in blue, magenta represents those from 1898-1905, and green from 1906-1911. Color-coding in this way helps show increasing geographic distance over time and, I think, really demonstrates the way Americans thought about movement in this period.

While Google My Maps has a lot of wonderful icons to use, I had to stick with the single missing person one (other than the scene of the murder). I quickly realized that sightings were so varied that assigning them different icons–police for when police responded, a train for a sighting on a train, etc.–would create a lot of isolated icons that would not have much meaning in the grand scheme of things. If I had significantly more data to plot with more uniformity that allowed classification of sightings, the various icons would have been really useful.

The project also changed slightly from what I envisioned in that it is less possible to link to or provide images of the primary sources used to plot the sightings due to copyright concerns. In a few instances, I was able to include Library of Congress images or maps, or select drawings from the newspapers. Otherwise, I have had to settle for plain citations of my newspaper sources. Also, many sightings that are mentioned in passing in the Washington Post and Washington Evening Star articles lack enough evidence to plot on the map, but in the future could appear there if other newspapers that I have not yet incorporated into my research provide information on these supposed events.

Overall I am happy with this project, which I consider complete, since it seems user-friendly (let me know if it’s not!) and visually demonstrates what I was hoping it would. But more on that to come in a couple weeks…

What is the Spatial Turn? Plus Theory Fun with Farman

Theory-heavy post incoming! If you haven’t thought much about our experience of space (the physically-existing-in-the-world kind and not the planets-and-stars kind) as historically contingent, you’re about to!

Jo Guldi’s multi-part blog post, “What is the Spatial Turn?”, follows the trend of academic disciplines thinking about space and how space is experienced. GIS, she argues, opened up a new conversation about space that allowed for larger scale questions that could be answered using digital resources.

In the section on “The Spatial Turn in History”, Guldi begins with the importance of landscape descriptions in 19th century historical scholarship. She explains how this trend in writing tied in with the nationalism of the moment. To do this type of work, historians generally had to actually travel the land about which they were writing. Guldi writes, “So from their birth, modern historians were travelers and specialists in landscape[.]” A focus on the urban environment in the second half of the century and beginning of the 20th privileged one type of landscape over the other and changed whose agency was most politically and economically important. Still, the nation–held together by its landscape–was central to historical writing.

Then, landscapes shifted from those with national boundaries to imaginary spaces of shared experiences. These landscapes, according to the various camps who sought to explain them throughout the 20th century, “expanded the horizons of engineering, politics, and scholarship,” “manufacture[d] an illusion of political consensus,” was “a tool for creating identity and marshalling citizens to work and to war,” “intervened between humans and their sense of reality,” and/or “charts the modern struggles of economic and political centralization.” In this context, the spatial turn took place in the postwar years and created a new focus on “the description of space, its experience and management.”

A great example of one of the spatial turn’s products is Jason Farman’s book on technology and space, which mainly sits in the realm of seeking to understand how people understand their reality through changing understandings of their environment. In Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media, Jason Farman examines how mobile interfaces “work in tandem with bodies and locales in a process of inscribing meaning into our contemporary social and spatial interactions” (1).

Farman begins his study by providing the interesting historical context of mobile media using the example of the pocket watch. Pocket watches, especially after the creation of an international standard, allowed individuals to have “a sense of global space and time while changing what it meant to travel and live in local space” (4). Technologies such as CB radios and smartphones created similar cultural shifts that helped connect (or sometimes disconnect) individuals with society. Ultimately, Farman notes, the exact form of the technology is not important; rather, it is its effect on conceptions of embodied space. This allows Farman’s theory to apply not only to current technologies that will likely become obsolete within a few years, but those that come after as well. By focusing on theory and not on the practical uses of current technology, Farman’s book becomes evergreen — a smart move in the digital history field!

This book’s most interesting contribution is Farman’s conclusion that technology = movement and movement = progress. Basically, people have always complained that the latest development was creating distance between people and their community. Farman argues that instead of thinking about movement as progress, it is more useful to think of movement and dwelling, which allows us to understand stillness as a type of movement as well. Like the historiography of spectacle, Farman’s book helps us to understand how our objects (which now include the nonmaterial object of data) and our relationships with them affect our concepts of identity and reality.

Discussion:

In what contexts is the personal computing interface still preferred to the pervasive computing interface?

How do movies, video games, and other types of media influence how we understand space? If we play or view them on a portable console or phone, does that change things compared to playing or viewing on a couch at home? Does this differ from reading books that describe location?

Farman discusses embodiment and text messaging in Chapter 5. Is the practice of embodiment different in text messages than in handwritten letters?

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.

 

Print Project Proposal: Spectacle in the Digital Age

Throughout my MA coursework, I have come to read a lot about spectacle and the spectacular from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries. Vanessa Schwartz’s Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris was my first introduction to these concepts, and this book beautifully explains the revolutionary way in which turn-of-the-century technologies and cultural developments changed the ways that people understood their world and their place within it. Alison Griffiths’s Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View compliments Schwartz’s book by extending the concept of the spectacular towards the present day through her analysis of planetariums and IMAX. I propose that the rise of the digital has again substantially altered the way in which we see and are seen through the creation of new forms of spectacle, and has affected how people understand both where and what they are.

My project would examine how virtual reality, Google Street View, and other immersive technologies originate from and build upon the spectacles of the late nineteenth century such as early cinema, panoramas and cycloramas, and wax dioramas. I expect to find similarities between the feelings these experiences provoked despite the temporal distance, proving that spectacle is about the overwhelming experience of viewing something new and immersive.

Griffiths rejects virtual reality as a form of the immersive view because it is a solitary experience. Both Schwartz and Griffiths would argue that spectacle relies upon not only seeing but being seen — a derivation of Tony Bennett’s theory of museums and other public spaces as places of policing the self and others through watching and being watched. However, the rise of social media and interactive technologies that aim to make even the most solitary experience communal or at least publicized mean that the things we view alone are now meant to be just as spectacular as viewing a cyclorama among a crowd in the 1880s. In addition, if our solitary viewing experiences are shared on an enormous scale, how does Bennett’s theory still apply? In what ways do we police our own and others’ behavior in a digital world?

This project is more theoretical in nature than practical; it is more microanalysis through close readings than macroanalysis through digital tools. I expect that the course readings relating to mobile media, place, and mapping will prove useful in understanding how some of these spectacular technologies have evolved and what they set out to do. So much of spectacle is about place and space. The readings on video games and interactivity will also be of value since video games are similarly intended to be immersive.

I’d love to hear any thoughts on this or suggestions for related readings!