Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Geographical Bigotry - The Amazing Racism!

Excerpt from the Coudersport, PA, 15-minute USGS quadrangle map (1938)

         In the wake of all the brou-ha-ha about the offensive name of the Texas hunting camp of Rick Perry (one of our erst-while Republican Presidential hopefuls for 2012 election),  I was reminded of the wonderful book by Mark Monmonier, “From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame,” University of Chicago Press, 2007.  This book deals extensively with pejorative toponyms (the name of a place or geographical feature) on government maps.  “In the early twentieth century, it was common for towns and geographical features to have salacious, bawdy, and even derogatory names….Placenames are far more than simple markers of location; they are social constructions which create, define and validate the particular reality desired by the namers,” from http://www.markmonmonier.com/from_squaw_tit_to_whorehouse_meadow__how_maps_name__claim__and_inflame_39898.htm
     If you haven’t read this book (or anything else by Monmonier) then you are in for a treat.  Check out his website for a listing of his books - all provocative takes on some great cartographical/geographical topics, while weaving in the hidden ramifications of our mapping choices, the subtext inherent in all maps, and what it reveals about us. 

Excerpt from the Commodore, PA 7.5-minute USGS quadrangle map (1993)

And then I thought I would share with you guys this very amusing clip from the Jon Stewart Daily Show from last night (October 3rd).  Some masterful reporting on the topic, and some classic quotes! When Jon Stewart asks the reporter in the field (ostensibly in front of Nigger Lake in upstate New York) what all these derogatory and insensitive place names say about America, the reporter responds "It says there aren't enough black people making maps!"

from: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-october-3-2011/the-amazing-racism---geographical-bigotry


  1. Yes, well, most of the offensive toponyms throughout the country actually HAVE been changed, (most were changed way back in the 1960's) but for some odd reason, New York State has some lingering old derogatory place names, mainly in remote and less-populated areas of the state, but STILL!!! Here are a couple of interesting links about the place name Nigger Lake, which apparently is going to receive a name change, at least as far as the NYS DEC is concerned. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903554904576460483180662902.html?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories

  2. Oh, and here is something else interesting: apparently many of these NYS toponyms starting with the appellation "Nigger" were based on areas where poor blacks AND whites lived, some of whom were "free coloreds," or freed or escaped slaves, often coming north through the Underground railroad. "In 1840s abolitionist Gerrit Smith sold over 140,000 acres of Adirondack Woodland near Petersboro in Essex County, in forty acre plots for one dollar each, to poor blacks and whites. Throughout the Adirondack range are small enclaves with names like Timbuktu, Blacksville, and derisively
    named nigger hill, nigger lake, and nigger pond. Towns like Witherbee, Northhampton, and North Elba (John Brown’s burial site) have significant black populations by the 19th century." from the New York State Freedom Trail, part of an official state government agency.


  3. Thanks for the additional information.