The Tenement House Committee Maps
- Alternate Title:
- No. 1. Map of City of New York showing Densities of Population in the several Sanitary Districts, June 1, 1894. Made under the Direction of The Tenement House Committee of 1894. No. 2. Map of City of New York showing the Distribution of Principal Nationalities by Sanitary Districts. Made under the Direction of The Tenement House Committee of 1894.
- The Tenement House Committee Maps
- Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection
- Pierce, Frederick E. (Frederick Erastus), 1878-1935
- Posted Date:
- ID Number:
- Collection Number:
- File Name:
- 1870 - 1899
New York City
- 14 x 48 (top), 17 x 48 (bottom) (centimeters, height x width)
- In 1894, the New York State legislature created a Tenement House Committee to "make a careful examination into the tenement houses of the city of New York," including all "phases of the so-called tenement-house question in the city that can affect the public welfare." The Committee's Report, critical of the tenement situation and including a number of novel maps, was formally presented to the legislature on January 17, 1895 (Tenement House Committee 1895, 4). See generally Vaughan 2018, 40-44. Immediately thereafter, Harper's Weekly published these two maps, adapted from the Report. The reformers on the Commission were eager that the Report reach a wide audience, and Harper's had written frequently on poverty and tenement house problems in the city. Blake 2006, 34. The maps "represented an important milestone in the use of new forms of graphic representation by reformers, and their publication in a widely read periodical such as Harper's Weekly constituted a publicity coup for the Tenement House Commission." Ibid. 34-35.
The upper map, showing population density, is relatively straightforward. It confirmed what was already largely known, particularly about the extensive overcrowding in the Lower East Side, then occupied primarily by Polish and Russian Jews. The map of nationalities below, however, had been converted from a colored version in the Committee Report to this "crazy quilt" of black-and-white graphics tied to a key below. This made it at best "very difficult to interpret coherently," not to mention "conflicting and problematic sources that undermined their validity." Blake 2006, 35.
In the end, flaws in the maps mattered little. What mattered more, as one scholar has written, was that "The 'dark' areas of the city on these maps represent areas of changing population, equated with physical, moral, and 'racial' decline." Ibid. 36. Even if "almost incomprehensible," the maps "give the impression of great truth and clarity... The power of the maps as a representation of a particular view of the city, of the 1890s, resides not in any 'truth' index, any correspondence between a cartographic representation and reality, but rather in the appearance of factuality, the look of scientific truth." Ibid, 37-38. It's a testament to the power of persuasive cartography.
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- Harpers Weekly, January 19, 1895.
- Cite As:
- P.J. Mode collection of persuasive cartography, #8548. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
- Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
- Archival Collection:
- P.J. Mode collection of persuasive cartography
- For important information about copyright and use, see http://persuasivemaps.library.cornell.edu/copyright.