Mapping Black Women’s Presence and Absence at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair

By Renee Bunszel, Bridgette Valenti, Mia Schneller 

This project, Mapping Black Women’s Presence and Absence at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, aims to provide an accessible, visual component of our recovery process. This map is set up in three layers to represent the multiple levels of recovery in which we are working. First, “Mapping the Black Women at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair,” displays the Black women our class has recovered who were actually present at the Fair. Our classmates have recovered these presences from newspaper articles and documentation of the Fair and provided the information for us to map. There are notably few women present in this filter, showing the disparity between who was present and who was excluded. The second filter, “Mapping the Movement Movement of Black Women Writers,” includes the Black women writers from our wish list. These women were influential writers during the time of the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair. The racist ideology of the Women’s Department meant that these women would have been barred had they expressed interest in displaying their work. This filter of the map utilizes geography to present biographical information and trace what was recoverable about their movement. The third filter, “Mapping the Wish List of Black Women Writers,” includes a primary location for each of these women. This portion of the map is intended for people to make new additions to and will provide links to where more information about these women can be found.

Since we are working with a map, we believe that it is important to interrogate this digital medium. Historically, maps have been one of the many tools for advancing colonial and Eurocentric ideology and power. In “Standing the World on its Head: A Review of Eurocentrism in Humanities Maps and Atlases,” Keith Hodgkinson studies many of the maps commonly used in Western primary and secondary education. Hodgkinson’s examination of these maps demonstrates that they all “reinforce the ideology of European supremacy,” through methods such as “misleading titles,” inaccurate portrayals of the size of land masses and countries, and “one way arrows, favouring Europe for trade,” to name a few (23). Hodgkinson highlights the particular importance of interrogating maps and visual representations because they “form part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ of humanities teaching and are central to our humanistic/political ideology,” but because they are “‘hidden’ in the sense of being non-verbal they are rarely challenged” (19). Therefore, when left unexamined, maps are a part of the same Eurocentric, racist ideology that distorts and silences non-white historical narratives.

Considering that maps have the power to perpetuate racist ideologies, and have historically been used for colonial domination, we acknowledge the importance of how things are represented in maps. Our project of mapping is intended to provide a visual, accessible aspect to our project of recovery work, to illustrate where these women worked and how their locations influenced or intersected with their work. In our recovery work, we found that these women’s movements emerged as important contexts for understanding their work and lives. For example, some of these women were forced to relocate because of racial violence. Additionally, the oppression witnessed during traveling served as a catalyst for some of their literary works. Not only does their movement help portray their biographical information, but it acts as evidence of their agency. Therefore, we found that mapping their movements allows us to tell a fuller story of their lives. The inclusion of a layer tracing movement in addition to the layer with a primary location aims to subvert the state identification of the Women’s Department by displaying that these women were not static. When looking at the map, it becomes clear how important their movement is because of how much information is lost when using the filter with only a single location per woman. Mapping their movement also enabled us to visualize geographical intersections between these women, as can be identified by overlapping points on the map. However, we acknowledge that this map is incomplete and there is much that went undocumented about these women’s lives. We invite future scholars to analyze, criticize, and contribute to this map.

Map in Progress – Coming Soon.

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