Literature Review

Town of Davidson Project

My project seeks to highlight the changes in geographical racial divides in the town of Davidson over the course of 10-15 years. By incorporating the voices of African-American residents that fought for better housing, land, and the opportunity to live in better conditions during the 1960s and early 1970s, I want to tell their story with their voices with the help of mapping tools to paint a larger picture of development and land usage. The project embodies the idea of ‘geography is history’ because as racial relations changed in America, North Carolina and at Davidson College the geography of the town changed with it. Through this project I aim to understand and teach about the history behind being ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ in a town like Davidson, NC that is racially, socio-economically and educationally divided.  This is a chance to revisit the past to tell the story of so many people whose stories otherwise was not deemed important enough to tell.


In my literature review I will explore how space and place play a role in cartography, how the creative process of map making is inherently subjective and finally, how the creation of mobile stories creates relationships.


The creation of interrelationships through mobile stories


“Computers have increased the powers of maps”- John J. Knoerl, Mapping History Using Geographic Information Systems


Mobile tools have the power to connect people across various mediums because of their accessibility. While some may argue otherwise, the creation of these tools are scholarly especially when using expertise from various fields to do so. The very building of a mobile story is building scholarship because it requires a plethora of information and voices to be incorporated in order to build a full tool (Ramsey).  Looking at Mobile Stories “The Interrelationships of Mobile Storytelling: Merging the Physical and the Digital at a National Historic Site”, the creation of mobile stories fosters relationships and sparks conversations. “Mobile stories foster interrelationships between four distinct entities: content and medium; people and space/time; people and information; and people and other people,” (Grigar, 19). The building of a map over time requires scholarship such as primary sources from the time period which is scholarship. By collecting the pictures and maps of these spaces (town of Davidson circa 1960s) I am repurposing the content in a new medium. This medium gives the information to new people via the web as opposed to having to scour the archives. It also provides newcomers a way to connect with the space in an informed way. While it is no secret that Davidson is racially divided by train tracks, many students, including myself, have no idea on the history behind these divisions. Mobile stories provide the opportunity to learn in an interactive way. Tools like Neatline were created by humanities and digital humanities scholars to “allow multiple, complementary or even wholly conflicting interpretations to be layered over the same, core set of humanities data,” (Nowviskie). When interacting with these tools, users get to engage in the humanities in a way that begs for multiple interpretations and interrelatedness between subjects, data and visuals.


Selectivity of Maps

Early maps of the town of Davidson (1940s-1950s) have a way of presenting the town that centers around the college. While this is not a new phenomenon given that Davidson is largely regarded as a college town, what is interesting about this is the fact that entire neighborhoods are not represented on these maps. As Dodge and Kitchen stated in Exposing the Second Text of Maps on the Net, “maps and their makers are situated within broader historical and political contexts and are thus embodied and selective representations,”(Kitchin, 1). Historically, the neighborhoods and areas of Davidson with high concentrations of African Americans were not represented because the voices of those residents were also not represented politically or socially. There are very little markers on maps that show theses populations as even existing which sends a message to viewers that the town was entirely created, maintained and celebrated by White citizens. This article broadens the idea of specialized mapping when talking about visual representations of the globe. Pushing countries to the periphery just re-enforces, visually at least, the existing world hegemony in relation to the Internet (Kitchen, 2). Cartographers that worked on the town of Davidson did the same thing when failing to include minority communities on the map of the town.  Relating back to a tool we discussed heavily in class, Google Maps is another example of the effects of the selectivity of maps. Backed by the ubiquitous Google, Google Maps has the power to dictate knowledge on a space and place by including said space on a searchable map. When looking back to the implications of this, it is dangerous to simply not include a place because some researchers may not think it is worthy or that there will be any interest from users. While thinking about Davidson town maps versus Google Maps, I think that cartographers most likely did not have malicious intent, but simply did not think that knowing where African-Americans lived would be important to students or townspeople. Historically, it was not until the first African student was enrolled that the allocation of property and advancement in property development really began increasing in Davidson, and so before then, there was no need to include this population in the mind of the cartographers. On a larger scale, when there is American political interest in a place, this trickles down to civilians who then may want to visualize the place. As Seth Long stated in his “Digital Maps and Social Data” article, “What gets deflected in cartographic practice is often the economic, social, and political realities on the ground, and these are important elements of a space,” (Long, 1). By not showing where African Americans lived in Davidson which was in close proximity in “Bradley’s Alley” behind Main Street, the viewer has no way of inferring how they were living which was without plumbing, proper heating, or any security, in the peripheries of everyday life in Davidson. I am not arguing that selectivity in map making is good, however, I am saying that selectivity in maps makes sense. Maps reflect a larger cultural, political and historical context and because cartographers cannot include everything, what they will include will be what is cultural, politically and historically important to their audience.



Space and Place

Space and place have been evaluated in academia from multiple perspectives. In Wither’s “Place in Geography”, several approaches to place are explored including the humanistic approach which was supported by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. The humanistic approach claims that space is action and movement whereas place is stopping, resting and becoming. This is to say that space is dynamic but place is individually focused. For the sake of my research, I have to side more with the later trends in understanding space and place which state that place is conscience of social power, meaning it is more than the individual but the context of the world around them that creates place (Withers 642). John Agnew in his chapter “Space and Place”, offers multiple examinations of space and place that range from behavioral ideas (space gets its place through the behaviors of the individuals) to historic ideas (space gets place through a collective history). In the town of Davidson I think that place was created by the collective history of the South as a region. When looking at the history of racial relations in the South, there were places that Black people were not allowed to be in said spaces and places where the sense of belonging or place was different for Black versus White residents. An example would be Main Street Davidson- where Black residents lived behind but were not allowed to partake in. They may have a space on the street but they did not have any place (of course, this only works under the definition of ‘place’ meaning ‘sense of belonging). Agnew argues that place is not bounded (Agnew, 24) which again applies to the residents of Davidson who may not have been welcomed passed Main Street on the college campus either. In these understandings I find it hard to use the “humanistic approach” to place because there were collective experiences experienced by humans of the same race or physicality. Their lack of sense of belonging was not specialized, but instead, applied to their counterparts across the American South. I think that place can be influenced by the human (ie a Black barber at Rayford’s may have more sense of belonging than the rest of the community due to his title) but ultimately, the larger, more common application of place in space is that it is first determined by social power.


Each of these themes are connected to my project by the idea of interactive maps being able to tell more of the story. The story being that there were Black communities in Davidson even though they were not always represented on maps.



Agnew, John. “Space and place.” The SAGE handbook of geographical knowledge (2011): 316-330.


Dodge, M. and Kitchin, R. (2000), Exposing the ‘Second Text’ of Maps of the Net. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 5: 0. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2000.tb00350.x


Farman, Jason, and Dene Grigar. The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.


Knoerl, John J. “Mapping history using geographic information systems.” The Public Historian (1991): 97-108.


Long, Seth. “Digital Maps and Social Data.” N.p., 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.


Nowviskie, Bethany. “Neatline and Visualization as Interpretation.” MediaCommons. N.p., 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014

Nowviskie, Bethany. “Neatline and Visualization as Interpretation.” MediaCommons. N.p., 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Ramsey, Stephen. “Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Geoffrey Rockwell. N.p.: U of Minnesota, n.d. N. pag. Print.

Withers, Charles WJ. “Place and the” Spatial Turn” in Geography and in History.” Journal of the History of Ideas 70.4 (2009): 637-658.

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