Category Archives: American history

Monuments in New Worlds: Mapping Columbus in America

Christopher Columbus’ transatlantic voyages assume problematic status as part of a “discourse of discovery.” For rather than markers of the fifteenth century narratives, they serve to frame a range of narratives of discovery that promote the fifteenth-century navigator as an icon of nationhood that were foreign to the fifteenth century. In making claims for the foundational role that the navigator’s transatlantic voyage, they create a new narrative of nation, particularly powerful for its ability to occlude and obscure other narratives, and indeed the presence of local inhabitants in a region, so that they assume the deracinating violence of a map: as claims of possession, and indeed mastery over space, they dislodge nativist presence in a region, much as Columbus did as a royal agent, and glorify the acts of renaming, and taking possession of, the new world, in ways that ally the viewers with the heroism of the Genoese navigator.

The questioning of continued Columbian commemoration within national identity has led to the questioning of commemorative Colombian statutary, that have proliferated across the United States, from Columbus, Ohio to San Francisco to Kenosha, WI, to Miami, as they have been dislodged from an Italian-American community–as many once were in New Haven, Boston, and Philadelphia as well as New York City–or a frame for a narrative of nation that needs to be told, or wants to be told. And attracted by a remarkable burst of creative iconoclastic energy, San Francisco’s City Arts Commission recently preemptively monument to Columbus somewhat preposterously overlooking the Pacific to be removed from its monumental pedestal–a statue long defaced in recent years–before it was defaced. The deposition of the 4,000 pound statue, with a violence that would repeat and channel the rejection of the figure of Columbus whose monuments were already deposed in Boston, St. Paul, Minnesota; Camden, NJ; Richmond, VA, and other cities in New York state, one of which was beheaded–if long after the statue to the navigator was ceremoniously pushed into the ocean in 1986, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with a placard “Foreigners out of Haiti!”

Owen Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle

Indeed, the San Francisco’s 4,000 pound commemorative statue of Columbus, often defaced as a symbol of enslavement and subjugation in recent years, was removed by a crane and as a call to dump it into the Bay was circulating, on Thursday, June 18, removing it from a scenic site by the Pacific beside Coit Tower, leaving an empty pedestal, perhaps to reduce the need to clean up a statue that had been repeatedly defaced in recent weeks but also to show consensus about lack of interest in defending a symbol of oppression, enslavement, and colonial violence, and public outbreaks around the call to depose the statue off Pier 31, not as a symbol of colonial resistance, but an expunging of the navigator from national history.

It was as if the spontaneous prominence across the nation of memorials to George Floyd, proliferating on street walls in full color, and in haunting offset likenesses, provoked introspection demanded introspection of what sort of memorials we identified with and wanted to see the nation, placing on the front burner of all the question of commemoration in terms that had long been glossed over and tacitly accepted. The commemoration of Floyd’s murder was a rebuke of police violence, throwing into relief discriminatory monuments that left the few defenders of the monument to ask us to consider Columbus more broadly in history, rather than focus on “some of his acts, which nobody would support,” without addressing the framing of the logic of “discovery'” in imperial narratives. For the navigator embodied an imperial relation to space and terrestrial expanse, discounting the inhabitants of regions, and affirming the abstract authority of sovereign claims and sovereign expanse, however improbably early maps placed the islands in the Caribbean–later called Hispaniola–based on his conviction that the Atlantic Ocean was able to be traversed, enabling transatlantic voyages for which Spain was well poised to expand commerce far beyond the coast of Africa and the Mediterranean for economic ends in an “Enterprise of the Indies” that Columbus proposed to John II of Portugal, before he set out to claim the new lands for Ferdinand and Isabella. The longstanding embedded nature of Columbus in a discourse of claiming land–a discourse from which he was not only inseparable, but embedded maps in claims of the administration and supervision of lands far removed from seats of terrestrial power, a map-trick that has been celebrated since as a form of inscribing territorial claims on a piece of paper or globe.

And if Columbus had no actual idea of the form of North America, the persuasiveness of fictive reimagining of his mastery over space–a mastery cast almost uniformly in intellectual terms, rather than in military terms of disenfranchisement or enslavement–provided a logic that is aestheticized in the monument as a mode for the possession and persuasion of possession over terrestrial space.

The origins of these reframing are perhaps obscure, but lionizing Columbus was always about rewriting the American narrative, and distancing one race of immigrants–the Italian migrant–from the very native inhabitants that the story of Columbus displaced. The navigator was promoted actively as a figure of national unity in the post-Civil War centenary of 1892, in which Columbus assumed new currency as a national figure, a map on silver able to enter broad circulation as a memory for how a three-masted caravel mastered terrestrial expanse, resting above a hemispheric map of global oceanic expanse. The anachronistic map suggests as much a modern triumph of hemispheric cartography–the coastline of the United States was surveyed by geodetic terms and that established the role of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey in producing maps of uniform toponymy and hydrographic accuracy had only recently set standards of coastal surveying that unified triangulation, physical geodesy, leveling, and magnetic of authority within the US Navy to produce coastal maps of the nation extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Alaskan shoreline.

The imperious gaze of the limp-haired navigator seems the first self-made man as he gazes with gruff determination on the coin’s face, almost entirely filing the surface of the first American coin bearing human likeness. Columbus was an icon it identified with how the hemispheric map took charge over a continent, and gave a sense of predestination to the recently settled question of continental integrity–and a territorial bounds that new no frontier up to Alaska, whose coast had been recently surveyed, and much of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Its design for the Chicago Word Exposition suggest a hemispheric dominance reflecting the growth of Rand McNally in Chicago, a map-publisher for America, as well as the self-assertion the United States as a hemispheric power, as much as the Genoese navigator about whom so many meanings have encrusted.

The striking hemispheric map of global navigability on the obverse of the coin circulated in Chicago’s World Exposition was global, but would also mimic the claims of hemispheric dominance that the hemispheric projection recalled, prefigured the Pan Am logo, in its global in reach.

In 1893, the point was made as replicas of the Nino, Pinto, and Santa Maria sailed in Lake Michigan during the Centennary, for which the U.S. Congress approved the printing of the first commemorative coin of an individual, beer flowed on tap at what was celebrated as a “blueprint of America’s future,” foregrounding the technological supremacy of the West and America. Ehe figure of Columbus was assimilated to the new technologies of transportation and conquest in a new center commerce where railroads open onto the west, in a condensation of a national celebration that cast Columbus as a figure of the destiny of western expansion, indulging in an American hyperbole of incandescent lighting, the championing of new technologies, in which the replicas of the Pino, Nina, and Santa Maria that had sailed from Spain were again sailing on a landlocked Lake Michigan were exhibited to foreground, Gokstad Viking ships sailed the flooded Midway, beside the mock-Venetian crafts of gondoliers.

Such global mariners provided a flourish within a World Exposition whose stage sets and soundstages, P.T. Barnum like, celebrated transit, transport, and mobility to astound visitors and silence all questions of not presuming to celebrate four centuries of progress; the neoclassical facades of buildings as the Administrative Building, Palace of Fine Arts, Agricultural Building, and Court of Honor, were iterations of the Crystal Palace that were precursors to Las Vegas, proclaimed the birth of a “White City” at the World Exposition that promoted the figure of Columbus and was under-written by the federal government and corporate America, recasting the shady city of vice as the “White City.”

Chicago Tribune

The claiming of Columbus as a national figure in the rebranding of the World’s Exposition set in neoclassical buildings as the site to celebrate Columbus recreated the l’Enfant architecture of the District of Columbia, and elevated the city as “white” in some of the very issues that make the continued celebration of Columbus Day so fraught in a pluralistic society: Peter van Der Krogt has surveyed in striking detail some four hundred monuments to Columbus that were erected after what was called the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in 1892-3, a century after the first monument to Columbus was built in Baltimore, in 1792, what it meant to identify Columbus as American, if not name the nation “Columbia”–the popularity of these monuments in New Jersey (32), Connecticut (15), and New York (24) suggests the clear lack of uniformity of enthusiasm of celebrating the navigator’s equivalence with the nation.

Peter van der Krogt

The fraught question of celebrating the Genoese navigator became a hot-button topic for Donald Trump to rally red state voters–“to me, it will always be Columbus Day!”–and to serve as clickbait as part of the new, perpetually churning culture wars. In an October state meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump was pleased to note that while “some people don’t like” the continued commemoration of Columbus’ transatlantic voyage, “I do”, as if that should be sufficient for the nation. Prime MinisterMattarella’s state visit became an occasion to espouse public disdain for the renaming of the national holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day, if not Native Americans Day, in over 130 cities across 34 states. For President Trump, doing so seemed designed not to impress Mattarella, but define a wedge in a deeper cultural urban-rural divide– a yawning divide of economic opportunities, the knowledge economy, and the shifting horizons of economic expectations, more than political belief. The nature of this poorly mapped landscape, the thin substrate of uneven economies and cultural disjunctions and divides, that passes as a political in a datamap of the district-by-district voting preferences that rips a red continuity all but from its bordering blue frame.

Mark Neumann/Red State-Blue State Divide

The national discontinuities reveal an impoverished geographic sense of meaning, one that makes all but ironical the prestige placed on the legibility of the map by the legendary figure of Columbus, who never set foot in the continental landmass now known as the United States, but was, in an era of increased hemispheric dominance of the quatrocentennary nearly engraved map–a reflection of the prominent role Rand McNally played in the organization of the Exposition of 1892, promoting the prominent place that the mapmaking company had gained in the design, dissemination and marketing of instructional printed maps in the later nineteenth century, just a decade after the Chicago-based printshop primarily producing train time-tables expanded its role in a growing educational market for globes and printed wall maps, using its engraving methods emblematized in its dramatic bird’s-eye view of the exposition.

And although it did not design the commemorative silver half dollar that included a caravel of the Santa Maria moving on creating ocean waves above the very anachronistic map that suggests the continental expanse of North and South America–as if Columbus’ guidance of the historic transnational voyage in three caravels he captained was based on a mastery of modern cartographic knowledge. The clear-sightedness of the navigator below the legend “United States of America” linked fearless scrutiny of the global expanse to the foundation of a nation, as the coin designed by the U.S. Mint sough to give circulate a discourse of national unity in the first coin printed in the United States to include the likeness of an actual individual, after hopes to copy a Renaissance portrait by Lorenzo Lotto were replaced by an austere profile suggesting intellectual grasp of space to be sold as souvenirs to visitors of the national fair. Yet the notion of hemispheric dominance was not far off: the explosion of the American naval frigate in the port of Havana led to charges to attack Spain in the press to exercise dominance ridiculed in the Spanish press–

The hint at hemispheric dominance in these maps mirror a push in the 1890s against how “the self-imposed isolation in the matter of markets . . . coincided singularly with an actual remoteness of this continent from the life of the rest of the world,” as a shift in global governance and prominence; the earlier celebration of the continental expansion of the United States to an area “equal to the entire circumference of the earth, and with a domain within these lines far wider than those of the Romans in the proudest days of their conquest and renown.”

Casting nationalism in such cartographic terms mirrored the embedding of Columbus in legacies of nationalism and colonization,–the coin that gave the navigator currency, if it silenced the recognition of the other, presenting Columbus as emblematic of a conquest of space. At a time when Italians were regarded as of different status from other whites, the figure of the Genoese navigator became a lens to project the “white” essence of the territorial United States in quadricentennial celebrations of 1892, recasting the navigator as an unlikely and implausible hero of the white race at the culmination of claiming native lands within the bloody landscape of Indian Wars–roughly, from 1860 to 1877–and to erase the violence of the seizure of these lands to crate the new map of the West, remapping the western lands “as” legible Anglophone and American, and the province of the White Man. Was Columbus the improbable hero of such whiteness and the claims of whiteness in the quadricentennary celebrations that led the nation to celebrate a “white” Italian, as a figure of the whiteness of the nation?

If we are realizing the loaded nature of the erasure of earlier inhabitants in the celebration of arrival in ‘America’ as a prefiguration of the nation, the condensation of this genealogy in the coin of the quadricentennial was a celebration of the witness of the national nd legibility of the new continental map map.

For as ethnicity was understood in sectorial and distinct terms of labor in the late nineteenth century–erased by the notion of an “end of ethnicity” and melting pot of the late twentieth century–the image of Columbus as a “white” hero, the image of the discoverer was purified of his own ethnic origins, at a time when negroes and Italians were excluded from social orders, and lived in Chicago sequestered in enclaves like Little Sicily, or Five Points in New York City, President Benjamin Harrison in 1892 promoted Columbus Day as a “one-time national celebration” to quell international tensions after lynching of Italian-Americans in New Orleans’ Little Palermo between Italy and the United States: the image on the commemorative coin of a pacified globe of continental unity as if it were included in Columbus’ fashioning of his own prophetic identity affirmed Columbus’ whiteness, as it erased the identity of indigenous subjects and silenced the other.

Columbus was promoted eagerly to claim whiteness for Italian-Americans, as well as to define a non-indigenous figure of the nation and national pride. Long before Italian-Americans adopted the festivities of Columbus Day as a regular celebration to incorporate their centrality in a civic record of national identity, as New York Times editorialist Brent Staples has put it, purged of racial connotations that continued in the popular press, only after the celebration of Columbus Day opened a pathway to integration in the face of racialist slurs. As those Sicilians who segregated in their dwellings in New Orleans were seen as targets of racial persecution, and as northern newspapers used stereotypes continued to magnify charges of poor hygiene and linguistic differences, casting Italians as vermin unfit for public schooling, Columbus provided a figure to flee from dispersion as a “Dago”: as immigration from Italy faced official restrictions by 1920, and Italian immigrants were subject to at the start of the first great Age of Mass Migration, as Calvin Coolidge barred “dysgenic” Italian-Americans from entering the country.

In the very years wen immigrants were both sectorized and accorded new status as “whites” who were eugenically suspect, and rates of immigration were slowed under the banner of eugenics, the figure of Columbus proved an able image to launch a powerful agenda of alternative immigration reform: in the very regions where the share of population of Italian origin was most pronounced by 1920, in those very counties the erection of Columbus monuments grew. They appeared in interesting fasion from the eastern seaboard inland to the Great Lakes, into the Chicago area on Lake Michigan, to the Texas and Lousiana seaboards, and San Francisco area in northern California: the dispersion of Columbus monuments across the nation below lacks dates,–

Statues and Monuments to Columbus/Peter van der Krogt

–it is a striking reflection of what U.S. Census records reveal about the relative proportional concentration of Americans of Italian parentage in the United States in 1920, when the Census tabulated those identifying as of Italian parentage as a category.

The increased transatlantic migration that occurred around the 1920s could recast the topos of overseas arrival as embodied by Columbus. The figure of Columbus as an intellectual, a civil servant, and of the statue as a monument of civic pride all encouraged the appearance of the navigator in public monuments. Of course, they recuperate the image of the placement of the flag of authority overseas, as much as vanquishing native one of the first global maps, planting the flag of authority overseas.

The question of such exportation of royal claims was a truly cartographic problem: the spatial migration of Portuguese royal authority was seen in Martin Waldseemüller’s 1514 printed global map as a pair to the discovery of a Spice Route around by Vasco da Gama. overlooking and surveying coastal toponymy in a statuesque manner, bearing the figure of the flag and cross as an ambassador of the most Christian regal monarch.

The oceanic voyages of Vasco da Gama, as of Columbus, were seen as those of an emissary of royal authority, whose travels recuperated tropes of imperial migration that derived from early church history, and were given new lease in the Holy Roman Empire by imperial chroniclers and pre-Colomban universal histories, as a spatial migration of imperial authority: in maps, the Christian migration of royal authority over space, along rhumb lines and nautical travels born by sea monsters who embodied the oceans, was a repeated topos of cartographic tradition not initiated by Waldseemüller,–the cartographer who named the continent after the Florentine navigator and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci–

Waldseemüller world map, 1515
https:/Tabula Nova partis Africae, in Lorenze Fries’ reduced woodcut of Waldseemuller, (1541)

–and would echo the prophetic cast Columbus had assumed in his letters, and would give as he cast his exploratory voyage in terms of one of renaming, conquest, and discovery, rather than exploration, as he cast himself as acting as of an emissary of and invested with authority by the monarchs of Spain, and a delegate of royal sovereignty who had himself moved across the map to lay claim to unknown islands that he named after his royal patrons.

The naming that was cast as emblematic of civility and civilization of new lands, and of the new naming of the Land. Indeed, the privileging of the effects of cartographic literacy were felt in the Waldsemüller map. by its foregrounding of the cartographic prominence of the insularity of the lands of discovery, greatly magnified in Waldseemüller’s map to reveal the prominence they held in the European imagination as a revision of Ptolemaic geography, the islands alone doubling the territoriality of the Spanish monarchy–by expanding it to a transatlantic set of islands that were cartographically inflated in size, and not only to accommodate the toponym “Spagnuola” but magnify the scale of the discovery. If the band East of Eden sing, in Mercator Projected, declare over the strong guitar strums, “It’s in the Western Hemisphere/that’s where the nicest things appear,” Mercator effectively magnified the very same hemisphere as the cartographic expansion that doubled the demesne of Spanish kings, cleansed of all of its indigenous inhabitants.

The discovery of course altered the scope of Spanish sovereignty, as much as the cosmography Ptolemy set forth based on the astrolabe he proudly held in the upper right of this twelve-sheet wall map. In this fractured world of multiplying insular fragments, where the entire of the modern South America, here island-like, if immense, labeled “America” and below the island of Hispaniola, was “discovered by the command of the King of Castille”–island-like as Waldseemüller most likely was forced to add the to the pre-1491 global maps that perhaps remained his source–dotted with even greater abundance of islands, all acting as if beckons to potential sites of untold wealth. The figure of Columbus may be absent from the map, but the caravel identified as sent by the European monarch seems to provide the basis for information in the 1507 global map–where it seems as if the emblem of Columbus–

I found myself recently standing in New York City’s Columbus Circle, a towering column constructed shortly after the erection of the Liberty statue in New York harbor, it was hard to imagine how the towering figure of the navigator once stood above the circle.

The prominence this late nineteenth-century Columbus claims atop a pedestal before a shop of corsets is a bit comical. The 1892 statue must have been a reply to the lady who stood as a welcome sign to recent waves of immigrants; funded by the Italian language newspaper that had begun publication only a decade earlier in 1880, the monument to the Italian navigator’s discovery served as a proclamation of civic dedication as well as rected; the encounter was monumentalized as an auspicious arrival of a man who seems to proclaim the New World’s settlement before a group of shrinking natives, who retreat behind foliage.

The statuary made in Rome during the centenary of 1892, seemed intended as a moment of immigrant pride, and indeed identify the navigator as an Italian navigator, unlike the native inhabitants who seemed unclothed and barbarous. The statue of Columbus Circle stood facing to the south of Manhattan island, as if in rejoinder to the midwestern Columban exposition that celebrated the expansion of Chicago and the opening of an American West. The contest between the monuments aspiring to announce the New World back to Europe demands to be teased out, but played out over the next century.

The icon has defined the southwestern corner of Central Park, and as a monument of triumphalism has, even if it has been dwarfed by the nearby Trump International and, since 2003, the Time Warner building, the once soot-covered statuary had a prominent civic function of rehabilitating one immigrant group, if perhaps at the costs of denigrating others and promoting a dated form of patriotism. The reduced place of the smaller Trump property may now seem in the shadow of the far more monumental Time Warner complex, but Trump had already aspired to displace the tower of Christopher Columbus as he wanted to put his own imprint on the New York skyline before 1992, and readily adopted the Columbus centennary as a pretext to demote the Columbus Square column at the same time as he promoted his vision of a Trump City by the Hudson River banks, for which Columbus became a pretext as much as a backdrop of sorts.

But is it a surprise that as a New York realtor eager to dodge financial ruin in the late 1980s, Donald Trump boasted of plans to erect an immense statue of Christopher Columbus in 1992 by a Russian sculptor, Zurab Tseretelli, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, from a massive $40 million of bronze. The statuary framed as a gift from Moscow’s mayor to the New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, to rival that of Columbus Circle must have been a massive tax write-off of the sort Trump had specialized. And grotesquely, the statue revealed, far from patriotism, the deeply transactional legacy of linking Trump’s developments to the nation, whose grandiosity of re-monumentalizing Columbus–Trump boasted the head made by the Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli from $40 million of bronze was already in America–“It would be my honor if we could work it out with the City of New York. I am absolutely favorably disposed toward it. Zurab is a very unusual guy. This man is major and legit.”

The grandiose claim is classic Trump, designed to feign disinterest and patriotism but searching for fame. Zurab, a prominent member of the Russian Academy, mighthave been quite legit, but building the massive bronze statuary was also a huge tax dodge to be built on Trump acreage, whose immensity only made it more valuable as a dodge and gift to the city of the sort one could write off but was also an investment inflating the real estate’s value: which Trump presented as a done deal accepted by then-mayor Giuliani as a “gift” from the Mayor of Moscow, mediated by the patriotic developer who had secured the landfill as realty he sought to boost before he built. The statue reveals early interest of the transactional nature of exchange and inflation of value, which long animated the Trump brand.

Site of Proposed ‘Trump Cityin Manhattan

The quite hideous statue, whose head had arrived in New York, was rejected for reasons unknown. The rejection was perhaps not aesthetic alone, but as the immense complex of figure and naval vessels, eventually recast as The Birth of a New World when the complex was finally installed on the coast of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, weighing in at 6,500 tons, in 2016, was hardly designed to be sustained by landfill: what piles into the Hudson’s banks would sustain all that bronze? The dedication of the statue at the year of Trump’s victory in the Presidential election was not planned, but is oddly telling. The gaudy if not hideous monument was rejected flatly first by New York, and then by Miami; Columbus, OH; Baltimore; Ft Lauderdale; and lastly Cantaño, Puerto Rico, where it faced intense local opposition, from the United Confederation of Taino People given their conviction “Colombus was a symbol of genocide, not a hero to be celebrated” by monumental statuary in the nation’s public memory.”

The collective reaction of the grotesque figural complex may have arisen because of effects on the community, but the body of the statue was recycled as it was transformed by Tseretelli, rumor has it, with a new head as Peter the Great, for Moscow, that celebrated the tsar for founding–yes–the Russian Navy. The monument that was the world’s eighth largest piece of global statuary at 93 meters voted was voted the world’s tenth ugliest buidling. The this 81 meter animated statue beside an oddly raised arm of greeting evidence that it was indeed remade in an attempt to match the massive body of bronze that remained in Moscow in 1992, or was the mismatch due to a new fashioning a body for the head returned to Tseretelli’s studio the became a monstrous monument of eery import? T eh odd disconnect of head and body seems not an illusion of perspective (witness those huge shoulders), but seems evidence of some sort of switcheroo in statuary that Tseretelli or his assistants bungled.

Zurab Tsereteli, The Birth of a New World (2016)

The image that we can entertain of Donald Trump transactionally pedaling Columbus from shore to shore tragically concludes the triumphalit Columban statuary–who better to pedal dated triumphalism? How did the Columbus statue ever arrive at this port? If removed from a discourse of discovery, the notion of “birth” is perhaps more odious.

Trump identifies himself–sons of immigrants of Scottish and German stock, allegedly, but must have wanted to bask in the idea of endowing monumentalism of Columbus statue for New York, beside Trump’s new monumentalization of his name in West Side Yards, the landfill expansion of the old yard of New York’s Central Railroad, that Trump had long sought to expand as the site of 20-30,000 residences, massive residential expansions of the city alternately hoped to be rezoned as residences and promoted to be renamed as “Lincoln West,” “Television City” and “Trump City,” all of which faced fierce community opposition, even if they were planned to feature the world’s tallest building. Would the 1992 statue be a $40 Million investment to lend prestige to the projects Trump imagined for a site he long promoted as both”positioned to get rezoning and government financing,” in 1979, and “the greatest piece of land in urban America” in 1992, housing 20,000 in 8,000 apartments and almost 10,000 parking places for the midtown area.

The “new Columbus” was as a conceit never achieved; but was it also a sense of the arrival of Trump in America, and the conquest of New York City? The statue planned to be erected on landfill was rejected for the fifth centenary and then promised to at least six other cities may speak to Trump’s disconnect from the world, and how poorly the notion of a purely triumphal celebration has aged. The grandiosity of statuary and buildings–perhaps also ugliness–was a perverse trademark of Trump, and was promoted a grotesque nationalism long dear to the developer. And it paralleled the growing public resistance to Columbus statuary that occurred in 1992 across so much of the increasingly diverse United States, as citizens questioned what was to celebrate in a figure long idealized in heroic monuments.

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Filed under American history, Columbus, commemoration, Voyage of Discovery, whiteness

Mapping Slavery in the United States in 1860

In debating the values of data visualization maps, I’ve gone both ways.  The value of maps as specific arguments–and tools of spatial orientation–respond to the value of the selective criteria that cartographers foreground in them, after all.  Less inventive differentiations of spatial distributions “flatten” the map’s surface, and limit their value to the map-reader.  Their arguments are not as interesting, one might say.

The early visualization of this elegant choropleth map employed data from the Census of 1860 it translated into visual form to map the density slave population across the recently seceded Southern states. Long touted as an important strategic tool, the rhetoric of an isolated mapping of the Southern states framed debates about the Civil War with greater  subtlety than current tiresome choropleth maps of “red” vs. “blue states.”  The 1861 lithograph marked the density of slave-owning in pockets by darkening sites of the greatest slave population, perhaps to mask the ownership of slaves throughout the South and point to the defenders of a slave-based economy.

1861 slave population map

If the census provided a basis for Edwin Hergesheimer and Alexander Dallas Bache to create the map, a collaborative government effort as much as an independent enterprise of the commercial engraver Henry S. Graham, the use of statistical cartography prefigured the mapping of social or political trend in the field of human geography.  While the recent German immigrant Hergesheimer created the pro-Union map from figures in the Census after his work on the US Coastal Survey, the translation of the results of the Census into visual form proceeded because the Coast Survey’s Superintendent.

Although a deeply collective project, Bache’s recent success in assembling a team to map the coastal survey gave him a new public profile, and prominence, to back the project of mapping a visual record of data assembled about slavery in Southern States.  The map tellingly reveals Hergesheimer’s deep Liberal opposition to slavery as an institution and the pro-Union belief of supervisors of the eighth national census, but its visual explanation of the origins of secession intentionally focussed attention around slavery debates.  Printed in September of 1861 after hostilities had begun, and ten states had seceded from the Union, it isolated the evil of slavery in the seceded region, and highlighted the centers of slavery’s institution even before slavery became the central issue of the war.

Hergesheimer and Bache were instrumental, too, in adopting the most current techniques of mapping to portray the differentials of slave-owning in the Confederate States just before the South’s Secession.  The half-tone engraving he designed to show slave-holding states in the “Southern States of the United States in 1860” foregrounds discontinuities in the national territory by using figures he derived from that year’s national census.  Known as a “Slave Density Map,” the lithograph exemplifies cutting edge statistical mapping and an artistic use of half-tones to depict the seats of the evils of slavery in seceded regions of the United States in a piece of pro-Union propaganda:  slavery existed throughout the Southern states, but was concentrated “down river” in Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas.  The lithograph provided something of a moral map of the region beyond which Lincoln sought to forbid the expansion of the slave-economy.  Printed and sold by the government in wartime ostensibly for the benefit of Union Soldiers, the single-sheet map used half-tones to differentiate relative variations each county’s relative density of slave-holding across the Southern states.   But although the map presents itself as an appeal for wounded veterans of a war in which soldiers were so dramatically injured, its mapmaker aimed not only to raise funds through direct sales but broadly encourage the war effort by illustrating slavery as literally darkening the nation.

With considerable cartographical sophistication in charting variable densities of slave-ownership, the map illustrated striking discontinuities in the nation and  even suggested divisions in the Confederacy at the outset of the war:

Slavery Map 1860

Bache was a deeply moralistic man, as well as a former Lieutenant in the Army who, after graduating from West Point until 1829 designed coastal fortifications  before he rose to head the Smithsonian.  Bache had won national eminence as the head of the United States Coastal Survey, using a team of trained surveyors, several university observatories, and many field assistants to triangulate the coastlines from a base-line near Annapolis.  Based on readings from numerous sighting stations, the map extended west to California and endured through the twentieth century.  After mapping the shorelines of the United States, Bache devoted himself to mapping its islands of slavery.

Most maps made in wartime are valuable strategic tools to orient troops, as much as map vulnerabilities.  But this map was not made for a lack of cartographical records.  (It did not meet a desire for cartographical knowledge, for example, as the many paper maps shipped to Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf War–often incorrectly considered the first war fought by GPS–as 67 highly detailed topographic line maps of the region, some bathymetric, at the incredible scale of 1:50,000.   Incredibly, the Army lacked  accurate maps of Kuwait, and these were quickly prepared during the war based on remotely sensed satellite images.)  Bache’s map had far less apparent strategic use, identifying pockets where a slave-based economy was particularly dense, and all but ignoring physical topography or population centers.  But the map was compelling as an image of the divided nation.  Bache and Hergesheimer designed the map for a civilian populace, using the 1860 census to create a visually compelling distribution that revealed regional disparities in “slave-ownership” and the population identified as slaves to reduce the scope of the confederate secession.

The map provides an image of the nation taking stock of itself, or learning to look at its divisions–a rare thing.  Bache and Hergeshemier’s map of this nexus of the Southern economy was ostensibly sold to raise funds for “Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the US Army,” or veterans, as gothic script in scrollwork crisply notes.  It’s been argued that the map identified possible pockets of resistance, or possible seats of opposition to Union forces.  Lincoln consulted the map after the war, to consider ways to encourage the Southern economy.  But the elegant map roots the struggle of the Civil War in disparities of slave-ownership in the South, to question the fierceness of opposition to the Union, or to show the enemy and stakes in the war.  By starkly differentiating each county’s degree of reliance on slavery by shades of grey, it offered viewers a stark map of racism in parts of the region–if it also perhaps perpetuated racism  unwittingly in directing attention to the suffering of soldiers who could benefit from its sale and not sufferings inflicted by the economic institution of slavery.

legend

But the map also made its point of isolating slave-ownership in select regions of the Southern states, in ways that masked the continuity of slavery across the region.  The remove of the Southern states from the North, and isolation of precise regions where the practice of slavery was most extreme, echoed Bache’s belief in the political uses of science by applied cartography to national needs and for the public good.

It is interesting that Hergesheimer’s design for the map followed Bache’s success in precisely mapping the nation’s shorelines as Superintendent of the Coastal Survey.  The project established Bache’s credibility in large-scale surveying.  The new survey not only used the survey of coastal lines to map the interior, but may have provided Hergesheimer and Bache to turn attention to the occupants of the land as the US Government desired at that point.  The actual survey of coastal lines offered a sort of template to construct the map of slave-holding populations by using nine shades of half-tones to darken regions in differing degrees that created a compelling image of the fractured nation, and minimized the widespread nature of the social acceptance of slavery in seceding states.  The detail of the shore and coastal islands throughout suggests that the US provided not only contour lines for the map, but a template for national coherence–the unstated if implicit subject of the Slave-Holding map, and a central preoccupation of the wartime government.

The map of slave-holders adapted census information to the basic contours of states to map aggregate variations of slave-owning in states.  Although the map is given the strategic value of predicting resistance to the Union troops, it was probably most valuable for its inspirational or hortatory appeal as much as its accuracy.  Bache tried to expand the public functions of cartography in the map by adapting recent statistical methods to compellingly map two different worlds within the same nation.  A career military man and scientist, Bache was a public servant committed to the public utility and good of surveying and meteorology–a counter-part to Matthew Fontaine Maury, the polymath oceanographer and cartographer who served in the Confederate Navy 1861-5 and was Bache’s long-time nemesis:  Maury, whose cartographical interests I discussed in an earlier post, and who had himself hatched the ill-fated scheme for slave-owners to resettle from southern states to Brazil’s Amazon Valley in the early 1850s.  Bache’s map is both a detailed picture of social divisions and an image of a divided nation.  If this unlikely project was impractical, Bache’s map focussed on the seats of the slave-economy in seceding Southern states.

Susan Schulten noted in 2010, in a blog post to which I’m indebted, that Bache’s map shows a striking concentration ownership of slaves on the shores of the Mississippi, where cotton crops dominated, Alabama and the low-lands near South Carolina (which enslaved the majority of its population) and eastern Virginia; she suggested that this snapshot of slave-holding had strategic value to determine sources of greatest resistance in the Confederacy as well as for Lincoln to consider future economic development of the South.  The map must have constituted something like a “news map” for readers eager to understand the actual numbers of slave-owners in the deeper south, and the relative degree to which slave-owning had continued to endure in the Republic.  Parts of the broadsheet provided a strikingly compelling illustration of the locations of slave-ownership and an economy of slavery where Cotton was still King, as much as the Southern states as a whole:

Mississippi

Slavery was widespread in both Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah:

Savannah and South Carolina

And, similarly, a pointed reliance on slavery around the area of Galveston, Texas:
Galveston

But there are multiple ways to read the project for designing the map.  The image of slave-holding lands provided a victory map for the Union soldiers, who sold it to raise money for their fellow-veterans who remained sick or injured, as if to stake the agenda for a need of remapping the nation, echoing a Jeffersonian idea of the use of surveying as a foundation for democracy.  It was the map by which Lincoln used to follow Union troops as they liberated slave populations, or understand the seats of rebellion, but had huge power in graphically stigmatizing Southern states.  It was also an idealistic statement of the goal of ending slavery in the war effort.

This striking legend that explained the iconography of the map’s nine variations in shading, placing the greatest “free blacks” in large towns:

Legend in Slavery Map

The innovative exercise in terrestrial cartography was also the last attempt to quantify slave-holding in the nineteenth-century, although it integrated public records that were later widely accessible.

It was, sadly, also the final time the Federal Government revisited the topography of slave-holding with similar precision. The failure to remap the same distribution seems one of the more stunning  cartographical silences of the twentieth century.  Bache’s impetus to draft the map might be informed by his long involvement in public education and belief in the public utility of the sciences; he effectively lent  a polemic character to conventions of statistical mapping by exploiting the different gradations of shading available to the engraver to craft a useful piece of early printed cartographical propaganda.

Indeed, its use as a piece of propaganda in wartime may have outstripped its potential as  guide to military strategy.  Lincoln regularly studied the map, according to his portraitist Francis Bicknell Carpenter, who found the president studying the map with considerable intensity in 1864, during the six months when he lived in the White House to paint the portrait “President Lincoln Reading the Emancipation Proclamation to His Cabinet.”  But his inclusion in the image of the choropleth map that accentuated national divisions reflected his interest in illustrating Lincoln’s “statesmanship” and “solid integrity” in bridging the nation.  By his own account, Lincoln had taken great pains to explain to Carpenter both the origins of “his adoption of the Emancipation policy” and his decision to draft the Proclamation from late July 1862, before he put it aside until being sure of military victory.  “I resolved,” Carpenter wrote in his memoirs, “to represent the scene [of Lincoln reading the Proclamation to his Cabinet] without the appliances and tricks of picture-making, and endeavor, as faithfully as possible, to represent the scene exactly as it transpired; room, furniture, and accessories all were to be painted from the actualities.”  Did the room actually include the map of slaves still ‘owned’ in the South?

Emancipation_proclamation-1

Carpenter’s state portrait depicting Lincoln reading the Proclamation to his Cabinet placed the lithograph in a small but a prominent role that most observers would not fail to notice.   As if to illustrate the subject of the recently issued Proclamation, if not the thoughts that weighed on the conscience of the President, the map emerged from behind a chair at the painting’s base.  Lincoln loved the portrait.  The map is the essential subject of his discourse; Carpenter made good use of it to capture the stakes of the Proclamation.  The nine bars of graduated shading in the map stand out among printed books in the group portrait, reminding viewers, both recording a moment of triumphalism and presidential dignity, and suggesting the uphill battle for implementing the Proclamation in the deepest South.  The map speaks volumes:

Visualizing Slavery-Carpenter

It reminds us not only of Lincoln’s hope to transcend social divisions.  Before Carpenter included it to illustrate the grand subject of Lincoln’s address–and Steven Spielberg also used the map in “Lincoln,” behind Daniel Day Lewis’ shoulder–the 1861 lithograph provided a tool to imagine political coherence in a more perfect union, urging men to enlist and others to get behind the war.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, American history, choropleth maps, Slavery, US Coastal Survey