From Measuring the Harlem Renaissance by Michael Soto © 2016 University of Massachusetts Press

Maps became a crucial tool in the Harlem Renaissance’s understanding of American social patterns generally, and of urban growth and decay, along with residential segregation within a Harlem context more specifically. The Harlem Renaissance produced its own maps, to be sure, along with varied notions of geographic self-understanding, and these are best understood against the backdrop of two overlapping strains in early twentieth-century cultural and political thought: nativism and eugenics. These exclusionist, exclusivist devices—both undergirded by emergent scientific or pseudoscientific methods—required an acute fear of individual difference as well as a paranoid understanding of the social consequences of difference (conceived primarily in racial or ethnic terms). Although maps lack the blunt hate informing the racist caricatures proliferating in turn-of-the-century newspapers and magazines, maps nevertheless allowed nativists to project individual biological difference onto a visual plane that immediately suggests social consequences. The visual rhetoric of maps modernized and objectified nativist and eugenicist political and cultural debate: maps rendered the “problem” of social change self-evident and irrefutable.

U.S. Coast Survey, "Map Showing the Distribution of the Slave Population of the Southern States," 1861

Courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

New York City Sex Ratios by Census Tract, 1930

Data courtesy Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011.

New York City percent Negro by Census Tract, 1930

Data courtesy Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011.

"Map of the City of New York and Island of Manhattan as laid out by the Commissioners appointed by the Legislature April 3d 1807" [Commissioners' Plan of 1811]

from The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1920

Lothrop Stoddard, "Distribution of the Primary Races"

from The Rising Tide of Color, 1920

Madison Grant, "Negro Population Increase and Decrease, 1920-1930"

from The Conquest of a Continent, 1933

James Weldon Johnson, "Negro Harlem 1925" and "Negro Harlem 1930"

from Black Manhattan, 1930

U.S. Census Bureau, "Proportion of Negro to Total Population of the United States at the Twelfth Census: 1900"

from Negroes in the United States, 1904

E. Franklin Frazier, "Harlem Community Zones Marking Expansion of Negro Population"

from The Negro Family in the United States, 1939