Don’t Blame the US or Trump for the Brexit

I’ve seen a lot of talk in the news media and on social media about how American attitudes have led to the “Trumpification” of English politics. That is hogwash. Don’t blame the United States or Donald Trump for the Brexit. The United Kingdom has a long and ugly history of racism, imperialism, colonialism, and anti-immigration sentiment. They don’t need our help. Since the U.S. was (prior to July 4, 1776) a British colony, it can safely be argued that the U.S. and Donald Trump learned from the Brits. They are experts in nasty racism – maybe the best in the world. The U.S. is a student. The British are the masters.

It is well known that the British colonized significant portions of the earth, including the 13 colonies that became the U.S. The British colonized most of what is now called Canada. Let’s not forget Ireland, India, Australia, New Zealand, British Sudan, British Congo, South Africa . . . do I need to go on? C’mon! Let’s get real. The British don’t need any help from the U.S, and certainly not from someone like Donald Trump. There are so many areas of the world that the British have colonized by violent force, that I’m too lazy to look it all up. Look it up yourself; you’ll see.

Have you ever visited the British Museum? You should. Among the things you will see there, are ancient treasures taken by force or stealth by the Brits from conquered cultures. In the U.S. we have a policy of returning stolen artifacts from indigenous tribes. The British attitude toward, say, Greece asking for the return of ancient sculptures is essentially, take a hike. English racism is so well known that there is a Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject (

But, forget about the British Museum. That was the bad-old-days, right?

Well, it is not that simple.

The U.S. certainly has the jump on the Brits when it comes to immigration restrictions based on race. The U.S. enacted the “Chinese Exclusion Act” (22 Stat. 58) in 1882. That barred all Chinese immigrants from coming and working for peanuts. The immigration restriction on Chinese labor was certainly rooted in racial bigotry; but it was basically about protecting U.S. labor markets from immigrant competitors.

The English got on the anti-immigrant bandwagon in 1905 with the “Aliens Act 1905.” Some scholars have argued that the Aliens Act 1905 was the first comprehensive, modern system of immigration control – meaning that “aliens” were controlled at ports of entry, much like the modern US/Mexico border. (See, H. Wray, “The Aliens Act 1905 and the Immigration Dilemma,” 33 Journal of Law and Society 302 (2006)).

Let me tell you a dirty, little secret about the origins of the Aliens Act 1905: Jewish victims of violent persecution and famine were fleeing to England as refugees, but England didn’t want them. The reason why, is that England had a poverty problem and an unemployment problem. They had a poverty and unemployment problem because industrial development was drawing large numbers of people into growing cities and draining agricultural areas – too many people and not enough jobs. Jewish refugees were in competition with English workers for jobs. This is the same type of argument we saw for the Brexit in 2016. (H. Wray, “The Aliens Act 1905 and the Immigration Dilemma,” at 309.)

Out of curiosity I did a few database searches using these keywords “england britain race immigration tory.” The search of LexisNexus returned 10,900 items going back to the late-1990s. A typical result from the LexisNexus search was S. Jacoby, “Comparative labor and Employment Law and Policy in the Next Quarter Century: Economic Ideas and the Labor Market: Origins of the Anglo-American Model and Prospects for Global Diffusion,” in Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal (Fall 2003)(describing how developments in British and American contract law created modern global labor markets). So this has been an ongoing fight in Britain for decades – for over a century, in fact. So is Donald Trump to blame for that?

The same search in the New York Times turned up results going back to December 12, 1851. One article of note by Arthur Balfour, “On Decadence” (New York Times, 5/9/1908), sets forth Mr. Balfour’s ideas on race and equality: “any attempt to provide widely different races with an identical environment, political, religious, or educational, will ever make them alike.” You will recall that Mr. Balfour was Prime Minister of England (1903-1905) and a virulent an anti-Semite. He played a key role in enacting the first British anti-immigration laws which were aimed primarily to bar Jewish refugees from entering England. You might also recall that Mr. Balfour was responsible for the “Balfour Declaration” of 1917 in which the British government formally endorsed the resettlement of Jewish refugees in Palestine. The wisdom of the “Balfour Declaration” can be debated by more informed persons than myself, but there is little question that Mr. Balfour himself harbored a deeply seated racism and an anti-immigration stance that had very little to do with the United States or Donald Trump.

The final database search I did was in JSTOR, a repository of (mostly) academic articles. The search turned up 20,009 results going back to 1783. A typical early example was a piece by William Preston, Esq. (an attorney?), “Are the Origin and Progress of the Polite Arts, in any Country, Connected with, and Depending on, the Political State of That Country?” The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 10 (1806). It took me about 30 seconds to figure out that Mr. Preston, Esq. was arguing that British culture was superior to “Egyptian, Persian, and Moorish” cultures (p. 4) – and if you need some clarification: these are Muslim cultures. I get that Donald Trump is an influential person, but his influence does not reach back to 1806. The Brits need no help from the U.S. or Uncle Donald to stew in their own xenophobic hate.

I’m no fan of US racism and xenophobia, and I am not an admirer of Donald Trump. But before we fall into lockstep with what Sarah Palin calls the “Blame America First Crowd,” let’s take a breath and remember a little bit of English history. We’re not to blame for the Brexit. England has full ownership of that now.



Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 7): A More Formal Description


In February 2009, the skeletal remains of a woman and fetus were found on the western edges of Albuquerque by a hiker. Police eventually uncovered the remains of eleven women, most of them known to have worked as prostitutes in the city within the previous decade. It is still not known who killed these women. In November 2013, a young woman testified in federal court that she was taken from Texas to Albuquerque by a pimp who coerced her into satisfying the sexual demands of paying customers. The woman, who was 16 at the time, told federal authorities that the pimp had sex with her in order to confirm that she was not an undercover police officer. She was then forced to perform sexual services under threat of violence for over a year.[1]

Since at least the 1880s, Albuquerque has been the site of a thriving and continuous market for the sexual services of women and girls (and probably men and boys). From 1880 to 1915, the city hosted two successive zones where women in brothels, cribs (one-room operations), and on the streets were free to lawfully trade sex for value. The first district, located on what is now the Old Town Plaza, prospered until about 1885. The second flourished for more than three decades in the heart of modern-day Downtown Albuquerque. In 1915 Progressive reformers succeeded in closing down Albuquerque’s Red-Light District. But, prostitution did not disappear like the crusaders had anticipated; it simply went underground – where it has remained right up to the present.

ImageSantiago Street, Old Town Albuquerque, NM, c. 1880

Unlike the mythic image of the good-hearted and gaudy western prostitutes promoted in films and television, life for the vast majority of prostitutes in Albuquerque was grim. Then and now, the life and career of a sex worker was one of virtually unending poverty, violence, degradation, exploitation, and social marginalization. The women who worked the streets and houses of Albuquerque worked in hazardous conditions for little money, and often ended their brief and turbulent careers physically and mentally shattered, impoverished, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Then, as now, many of these women’s lives were cut short by murderous hands.[2]

Prior to the late-19th century, prostitution was considered a moral failure, but not a crime. The criminalization of sex work spread along with the growth of cities in the United States as well as Europe. Treating the sale of sex as a crime was an attempt to control – and later to eradicate – the practice. But all efforts to eliminate the sale of sex more-or-less failed. This is because most people who found prostitution problematic did not understand why it blossomed so rapidly in the newly expanding American cities. As historian Ruth Rosen has argued, in it’s modern form, “[p]rostitution was the inevitable result of the transformation of the family in the nineteenth century.”[3]

ImageSecond Street, Downtown Albuquerque, NM, c. 1915

The transformation of the American family during this period was linked to urban growth, and the movement of rural, agricultural populations into cities. American society shifted from being an agriculturally-based society where extended families worked and lived together, to being an urban-based society where nuclear families sold their labor for wages. Women too were part of this shift, but most employment opportunities were closed to them. If a woman found herself orphaned, divorced, widowed, or simply abandoned, finding employment could be literally impossible. Combined with these potential hardships was often the responsibility for raising children. Prostitution for many women was the only rational choice they had, short of living by begging.

To top all of this off, women in this period we considered to be morally superior to men and less inclined to have sexual desire. So, women who found themselves in dire economic situations and chose to sell sex were seen as morally corrupt and deviant. At the same time, since the Victorian ideal was that women were sexually pure (except for procreation) men were often expected to seek sexual release outside of the marriage. The Red-Light Districts in the cities of the United States were part of this Victorian moral economy. The women who lived and worked there played an important role in maintaining the façade of the ideal family. They provided sex to men, thus saving respectable women from the taint of sexual impurity. In this moral con game, prostitutes were shunned and ignored. American society had no place for such women, and the widespread belief that women who sold sex were immoral deviants allowed Americans to ignore the bare and obvious fact that women turned to prostitution because they were poor.

In some respects, not much has changed. Then, as now, the short and unstable lives of sex workers became an opportunity for voyeurism and moralizing. But, the world of sex work is not a moral issue. It is a labor issue.


This project is a map (click here to see a rough draft) that reconstructs Albuquerque’s two successive red-light districts, Old Town (c. 1880-1890) and New Town (c. 1880-1915), located in modern day Old Town and Downtown, respectively. Ideally the map will be located on a website where related content can be displayed, such as photographs, documents, and narrative text. The combination of the map and other content will be aimed at telling the story of Albuquerque’s Red-Light Districts, the women who worked there, the men who were their customers, and their relationship to the surrounding community.

ImageRailroad Avenue, New Town, Albuquerque, c. 1890s (now Central Avenue, Downtown)

The primary base map itself will be similar in design to Google Maps, but even more stylized. This means that there will be less modern street information, instead using street data from the period. The information included on the map itself will be directly related to telling the story of the old Districts. Essentially the map will be a series of digital reconstructions of Albuquerque as it was from 1880-1915. This will include not only the streets, but the buildings as well. The information for the size and shape of the buildings will be drawn from Sanborn Insurance Maps, which have detailed block layouts for the entire city of Albuquerque up to the 1940s. Scans of the Sanborn maps will be imported into QGIS (see below), and the individual buildings, city blocks, and streets will be peggged with GIS coordinates to the base map.


Sanborn Insurance Map of Downtown Albuquerque, c. 1940


Close up of a Sanborn Insurance Map of Downtown Albuquerque, c. 1940

Each structure that housed either a brothel or crib will be clickable. When users click on a structure, any information available will appear in a small window. The information window will, at a minimum contain information about whether the building housed a brothel or crib. For those brothels/cribs with more available information there will be any or all of the following types of information available either in the window, or through links in the window: address; owner/operator, names of prostitutes; age; place of birth; race/ethnicity; number of children; photos of structure and/or inhabitants; related newspaper articles, mug shots, police records, court papers, and other public records.


Example of clickable map with information window, done with Google Map Engine Lite

At the top of the map will be a slider that users can move via a mouse across a timeline beginning with 1880 and ending in 1915. As the timeline slider is moved, the map will change according to the date that the slider hovers over. As the slider moves, the map will change, showing first the development and decline of the Old Town District, then the development and decline of the New Town District. Users will also be able to switch to a modern digital street map as well as satellite images of the city. In this way, users can compare Albuquerque then with the city as it is today.

On the left-hand side of the map will be a menu that will take users to a text, narrative history of the two Districts, and credits for the map and website.


This map is a social history. It is a history from-the-bottom-up in the purest sense. Few people were lower than the prostitute in Albuquerque’s quasi-Victorian social order. Contrary to the images presented in film and television of glamorous and gaudy “painted ladies” who lived and work in gingerbread bordellos (e.g., “Miss Kitty” in the television series, Gunsmoke), women who did sex work in the American west in this period lived lives marked by poverty, violence, and social isolation. This is true for the women in Albuquerque as well.

As a social history, this map will be informed by Marxist theory, which posits that class conflict is a primary driver of social change, and that the modes of production of a society influence the organization of social life. Albuquerque at the turn of the twentieth century was in the throes of an emerging industrial capitalist order. The city was growing, men came by railroad to sell their labor, and women came to sell sex to the mostly male labor force. Seen in this way, the story of Albuquerque’s vice district is a story of capital and labor.

The research for this map is also indebted to feminist historians who, beginning in the 1980s began recovering the history of prostitution in Europe and the United States. In doing so, feminist scholars have stripped away the mythology of sex work to present a more mutli-dimensional understanding of prostitution and the culture in which it flourished. Three scholars in particular, sociologist Marion S. Goldman, historian Anne Butler, and historian Ruth Rosen, did pioneering work in recovering the history of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century prostitution in the United States. In addition, this project is indebted to the work of Judith Walkowitz, whose histories of prostitution and sexuality in Victorian England have provided guidance on how to unpack the coded nature of American sex work in this period.

This project also takes inspiration from the French historian Fernand Braudel, whose work demonstrated that an understanding of a given society can be constructed by examining the structures of everyday life – what Braudel described as “the little things one hardly notices in time and space.”[4] Braudel examined the everyday lives of average people through the stable social and economic structures that made up the daily practice of their lives: diet, housing, fashion, energy use, patterns of town settlement, and many others. Rejecting an exclusive focus on the actions and events of social/political elites, it was Braudel’s conviction that the actual engine of historical change was the ever evolving structures and practices of common people simply going about their lives.

This project is also informed by the growing field of Digital Humanities, which is endeavoring to unite traditional methods of humanities scholarship with computing technology. This is not simply the practice of cleometrics where data is used as a quasi-scientific body of evidence to argue a specific thesis. Instead, Digital Humanities employs computing technology not only to crunch data, but also to create new ways of representation and information visualization, which are only limited by the imaginations of digital humanists. This project marries traditional archival research, cleometric analysis, geo-spatial conceptualization, and new forms of information visualization – not just to impose a narrative, but also to generate questions and open new paths of inquiry.


This project seeks the make sense of the raw data that reflects the everyday practices of sex workers in Albuquerque from 1880 to 1915. As such, this map will be based on data from census records, tax records, church records, land surveys, historic maps, as well as data from court records, historic banks, newspapers, police records, court documents, photographs, and other documents – basically, any source that has “Big Data” to mine.

Appropriate data will be input into a spreadsheet program where each column is pegged to a function on the map. The data will be available to view and download for any user. This map, however, will not be open source, though there will be a comment section.


The primary technology used in this mapping project is QGIS, an open source, multi-platform GIS mapping application. QGIS allows geo-spatial data to be represented, edited, and analyzed. QGIS also allows the importation of scanned images and maps, making possible the inclusion of historic New Mexico maps and images. Being an open source application, this project will not incur any software licensing fees. By using QGIS, this project is supporting the development of innovative, publicly available software applications, and promoting the free exchange of ideas.

Included in this project, is a plan to write a computing program using the Python language that will pull data from online compilations of the United Stats and New Mexico Censuses from 1850 to 1920. Women who engaged in prostitution often did so to supplement their income from sewing and millinery. In census enumerations, it was common for such women to only give “dressmaking” or “milliner” as their official occupation. It is my hypothesis that Albuquerque had more prostitutes than previous historians have estimated. This may be due to the labor intensive nature of analyzing census data manually, which makes errors in calculation likely. Writing a Python-based program to locate and pull every instance of a female dressmaker or milliner; a list can be more easily and accurately made. These names can be compared to police and court records, and newspaper articles to see if any women were overlooked by previous scholars.


Ideally, the aesthetic presentation of this map would be within a mock-up of a Victorian theater stage. The reasons for this, aside from pure aesthetics, would be 1) to create an inviting design that is familiar to non-specialist audiences; 2) to highlight, indirectly, the theatrical, dramatic, and tragic nature of the subject matter; and 3) highlight the negative aspects of Victorian-era prostitution by juxtaposing the degrading and enervating nature of the women’s lives, with the gaudy, fake-fancy gild of the a late-19th-century public theater.

When all analysis and critique is set aside for the day, I still believe that history matters. Despite the relentless critique of post-structuralist and post-modernist scholars who argue that Truth is a chimera, I still think that some kind of truth can be attained in serious and careful works of history. It may not be metaphysical truth about the past. It may simply be a discrete truth about our lives now. And, what is this truth? It is this: prostitution is not glamorous, and generally is not the choice of women who have viable options for economic and social gain – prostitution is largely the choice of women who are in distressed circumstances. Prostitution is often forced on women through physical and/or psychic coercion. It is likely true that some women chose to trade sex for value as a conscious act of personal power, and enjoyed – or at least made peace with – the profession. Most women did not.

This is important, because if, on the one hand, we continue to numb ourselves on media fantasies of the glamorous and gaudy bordellos of the “Wild West,” or, on the other hand, fall prey to the relativist and nihilistic view of scholars who portray sex work as an act of empowerment, we may miss important issues – namely, that most women in the United States in the twenty-first century engage in sex work because of structural inequalities that deny equal justice to women.



United States Census, 1890-1920.

Bernalillo County, NM Records, 1949-1927. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.

New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities Records, 1971-1993. University of New Mexico, Center for Southwest Research.

New Mexico State Auditor Records, 1846-ongoing. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.

United States Territorial and New Mexico District Court Clerks Records, 1853-1970. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.

United States Territorial and New Mexico Supreme Court Records, 1846-1978. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.


Bannerman, Ty. Forgotten Albuquerque. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2008.

Barnhart, Jacqueline Baker. The Fair but Frail: Prostitution in San Francisco, 1949-1900. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1986.

Beckett, John. Writing Local History. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2007.

Bryan, Howard. Albuquerque Remembered. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Butler, Anne M. Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Carpio, Myla Vincenti. Indigenous Albuquerque. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2011.

Cohen, Patricia Cline. The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Evans, Max. Madam Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Ferguson, Erna. Do You Remember?: A Series of Articles on Old Albuquerque, Printed in the Albuquerque “Herald.” Albuquerque, NM: Special Collections Library System, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vols. 1-3: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Garcia, Nasario. Albuquerque: Feliz Cumpleaños!: Three Centuries to Remember. Santa Fe, NM: La Herencia, 2005.

Goldman, Marion S. Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.

Hodge, William H. The Albuquerque Navajos. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1969.

Johnson, Byron A., and Sharon P. Johnson. Gilded Palaces of Shame: Albuquerque’s Redlight Districts, 1880-1914. Albuquerque, NM: Gilded Age Press, 1983.

McHugh, Paul. Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.

Palmer, Mo, and Paula Matteucci. Recuerdos de los Duranes. Produced by Mo Palmer and Paula Matteucci. 27 minutes. Albuquerque, NM: KNME-TV, 1999. DVD.

Pivar, David. “Cleansing the Nation: The War on Prostitution, 1917-191.” Paper presented at the Southern California Meeting of the American Studies Association, Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, May 10, 1975.

________. Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1968-1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1973.

Rosen, Ruth. The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Salazar, J. Richard. Old Versus New: A Glimpse of Anglo-Hispanic Relations in 1880s Albuquerque. Guadalupita, NM: Center for Land Grant Studies, 1994.

Seagraves, Anne. Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West. Hayden, ID: Wasanne Publications, 1994.

Simmons, Marc. Albuquerque: A Narrative History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.

________. Hispanic Albuquerque, 1709-1846. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2003.

Slaney, Debora Christine. Jewel of the Railroad Era: Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel. Albuquerque, NM: Albuquerque Museum, 2009.

Walkowitz, Judith R. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

________. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Woolston, Howard. Prostitution in the United States Prior to the Entrance of the United States into the World War. 1921. Reprint, Montclair: NJ: Patterson-Smith, 1969.

[1] Associated Press, “Police Search Missouri Locations in New Mexico Bodies Probe,” Bismarck Tribune, 4 August 2010, 2A.; Staci Matlock, “State Medical Investigators Use Cutting Edge Science To Match Names To Unidentified Remains,” Santa Fe New Mexican, 6 November 2010, C-1; Diana Washington Valdez, “Witness In Sex Trafficking Trial Said She Was Lured By Fake Job Ad,” El Paso Times, 16 November 2013.

[2] The discussion on the causes, conditions, and historical context of prostitution are based on the following sources: Anne M. Butler, Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985); Marion S. Goldman, Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981); Byron A. Johnson and Sharon P. Johnson, Gilded Palaces of Shame: Albuquerque’s Redlight Districts, 1880-1914 (Albuquerque, NM: Gilded Age Press, 1983); Ruth Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982);

[3] Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918, 4.

[4] Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible (New York: Perennial Library, 1979), 29.

Thoughts On Our Digital History Seminar

Just to get it out of the way, I want to say that I really enjoyed the class. In fact, I think that this class would be an excellent requirement for the PhD program, and maybe even the MA program. While the future of digital humanities is not entirely clear, it seems that this type of scholarship/scholarly endeavor will be an increasing part of the academic world. I actually do not have any complaints or criticisms. I took the class on its own terms and had no real issues with the direction it took. I suspect that having an excellent instructor and excellent classmates probably helped to make this a great experience.

One of the interesting things about this class was that even though the readings were relatively short, the discussions were among the most vigorous and sustained that I have ever seen, both as a seminar student and as a teacher. Having gone through a Masters history program, law school, and now a PhD history program, I am more-or-less of the opinion that most seminars are little more that a high-priced “book-of –the-week” club with a research paper tacked on to the end. At some point the format provides diminishing returns. For the most part, grad students read (or skim) one book a week and then the gather once a week to discuss the book. Put generously, the quality of seminar discussions varies greatly.

In this seminar, the readings were shorter than usual, but the discussions never flagged. This is, in part, due to the pointed arguments of the readings, which seemed to compel us to argue back. But, it should be said that Dr. Gibbs is a skillful seminar leader, and his openness to ideas and willingness to ask probing questions also kept the discussions fruitful; and again, the members of the class each had interesting and useful contributions to the discussions.

I would leave the class unchanged, and I would recommend it to any humanities graduate student. I actually feel sort of guilty for enjoying the class so much.

Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 6): Who Will Peer Review My Map?

One of the questions that I have been grappling with in creating this map of Albuquerque’s historic Red Light District is this: who will peer review the map for accuracy and its validity as a genuine scholarly contribution to the history of the United States? The intention is not to create a toy map that is simply fun and informative. The map must be empirically based, theoretically grounded and plausible, and offer a new interpretation that contributes something to the field. It is true that I could just publish the map myself without peer review via a blog or website. But, I want to learn as well as produce. Having the map peer reviewed would not only assess the map, but allow me to assess my self and my work.

If this were a written article on Albuquerque’s Red Light District, it could be submitted to an academic journal where (if accepted) it would be sent out to anonymous reviewers who could assess the article’s value. But this is not an article; it is an interactive digital map that cannot be published in a printed academic journal. The idea place for this map would be on a State website where it could be used by the general public as well as scholars. But the question remains: who will perform peer review on this project?

Kathleen Fitzpatrick (currently, Visiting Research Professor of English at New York University) peripherally addresses my concern about peer review of digital scholarship in her book Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (2011).  Fitzpatrick’s concern, however, is more centered on peer review of traditionally produced works of written (prose) scholarship that are published digitally via online journals – as opposed to print journals or academic presses. In Planned Obsolescence, Fitzpatrick argues that the traditional method of professional assessment of scholars in the university environment (i.e., published articles) must be rethought in the face of growing online outlets for academic works. It is a thought provoking book; but it does not answer my question.

Paul Fyfe (Assistant Professor of English at Florida State University) deals with peer review of what he calls alternative scholarly production in a blog post, Open Access, Open Secrets: Peer Review and Alternative Scholarly Production. Fyfe raises similar questions to mine. For example: is the writing of source code that underlies a piece of humanities scholarship considered academic work itself, and if so who will review it and by what standard? But, like Fitzpatrick, Fyfe is primarily concerned with the written word in digital format. Where Fitzpatrick focuses on long-form prose works, Fyfe’s attention is directed towards blogs and the use of Twitter. He does point out that the Modern Language Association has developed guidelines on how to evaluate alternative forms of digital scholarship.  But, when it comes down to it, Fyfe doesn’t really answer my question either.

Both Fitzpatrick and Fyfe point to online journals that specialize in publishing works of digital scholarship, both prose and alternative forms. But, even journals like Journal of Digital Humanities and The Journal of Electronic Publishing are more-or-less prose journals published online article about digital humanities. Even Digital Humanities Quarterly (with such a promising title) is the same: articles in prose.

However, there is one online journal mentioned by Fitzpatrick that may offer a peer review for my mapping project, Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular. Published out of the University of Southern California, Vectors is unique in that it publishes scholarly works that may not have any prose at all. It is worth printing here, the “mission statement” of Vectors:

“Vectors maps the multiple contours of daily life in an unevenly digital era, crystallizing around themes that highlight the social, political, and cultural stakes of our increasingly technologically-mediated existence. As such, the journal speaks both implicitly and explicitly to key debates across varied disciplines, including issues of globalization, mobility, power, and access. Operating at the intersection of culture, creativity, and technology, the journal focuses on the myriad ways technology shapes, transforms, reconfigures, and/or impedes social relations, both in the past and in the present.

This investigation at the intersection of technology and culture is not simply thematic. Rather, Vectors is realized in multimedia, melding form and content to enact a second-order examination of the mediation of everyday life. Utilizing a peer-reviewed format and under the guidance of an international board, Vectors features submissions and specially-commissioned works comprised of moving- and still-images; voice, music, and sound; computational and interactive structures; social software; and much more. Vectors doesn’t seek to replace text; instead, we encourage a fusion of old and new media in order to foster ways of knowing and seeing that expand the rigid text-based paradigms of traditional scholarship. Simply put, we publish only works that need, for whatever reason, to exist in multimedia. In so doing, we aim to explore the immersive and experiential dimensions of emerging scholarly vernaculars across media platforms.”

One of the inspiring projects published in Vectors is “The Roaring ‘Twenties,” an interactive map and timeline that includes audio recordings of urban sounds. Developed by Emily Thompson (Professor of History at Columbia University) and designer Scott Mahoy, “The Roaring ‘Twenties” is an audio and visual landscape that explores the urban soundscape of early-twentieth century New York City. It is an expertly conceived and designed project that stands on it’s own, with little more that an introductory statement by the author. I encourage you to follow the links – only by interacting with the project, can a sense be gained of it and of the extraordinary nature of Vectors. If there is a future in this type of publishing, Vectors is good example of where it seems to be headed. Still, my question is peer review is not really answered by Vectors either. Vectors seems to promote the ideal of curation as opposed to peer review. Oh, well.


Screenshot from “The Roaring ‘Twenties.”

The possibility remains of organizing a peer review network for such digital projects – which would be a whole project unto itself. I think I’d rather just play with computers and documents.

Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 5): Learning to Write Code

As part of researching and constructing the map of downtown Albuquerque’s historic Red Light District, I have decided that I need to learn how to write “code.” For those of you not up on your computer terminology, code is a generic name for the various computer-programming languages that are used to make computers do things. Code is typed in, as opposed to a Graphical User Interface (GUI) (see images below). Both allow you to do stuff, but writing code gives you nearly infinite control over a computer (or at least that’s what I hear). For a variety of reasons, it will be easier to crunch and transform census data, etc., into an interactive map, if I learn to write some code.

Termiinal ScreenThe Shell: This is where code is written – a screenshot of Mac OS X Terminal

Mac Screen Grab

The Graphical User Interface (GUI) – how most of us make our computers work

As I am learning, in the academic world there is quite a bit of disagreement about whether digital humanists should learn to code or whether they should just use tools created by people who are programmers. As a general rule, I find arguments between scholars mildly comical and thoroughly irritating; but I get it – why waste time learning how to program computers when there are a lot of talented people who specialize in that already. But, the things is, I need to have a computer do things for this mapping project that do not necessarily exist yet. I can’t just download an app. I have to create one.

So here I am learning to write code for the first time. What I am doing is probably something that 7-year-olds across the globe do for fun on a daily basis. But, for me it is a challenge. It is also fun, but the learning curve is pretty steep. My advisor, Dr. Fred Gibbs, has suggested that Python would be a good language to start with. Again, for those of you who are not familiar with the terminology: different programming languages do different things. As a starting point, I have begun going through Zed Shaw’s, Learn Python the Hard Way, which is a step-by-step starter guide that has about 60 lessons for the beginner. I am going through a couple lessons a day (with repeats when I screw up). The goal is to get through the entire program in a month. That is just a beginning. Apparently it will take a month just to begin to begin learning. But, it really is fun – sort of. It can be a bit frustrating too.

One thing that is striking about learning to write code is that is very similar to learning how to read and write music. Code and music are both abstract, practical languages that have very limited respective scopes and purposes. Maybe the same could be said about spoken language, but to my mind there is a distinction: spoken language is abstract and practical, but has almost unlimited application. Obviously, I am not a linguist. Code is also similar to mathematics (at least at the lower-levels) in that it is either right or wrong. Code does not lie. If it is not written correctly the command will simply not work. Even in its complexity, there is a simplicity that is somehow comforting. Some things in life can still be boiled down to right or wrong (not really).

Anyway, that is what I am working on now in researching and constructing this map. There will be more coding posts in the future. Lucky you.

Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 4): Learning and Using GIS

For those of you who are not familiar with the term GIS, it stands for Geographic Information Systems, a computer-based system designed to capture, manipulate, and present geographic data in visual form. It is now the most common basis for creating modern maps. It is probably familiar to most Americans through the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation systems available in cars, trucks, boats/ships, and increasingly in smart phones. GIS and GPS are not the same thing, but both use satellite positioning to locate coordinates on Earth’s surface (click on the red links for more information on each system).

ImageScreen shot of a GIS software program – in this case, QGIS.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I am learning how to construct digital maps in order to reconstruct a visual representation of Albuquerque’s historic Red Light District, which disappeared sometime in the first half of the 20th Century. That means that I have to learn to use a GIS program, and probably learn a bit of programming.

Recently I started to learn how to use QGIS, a powerful and flexible GIS program. QGIS is an open source alternative to proprietary GIS software systems like ArcGIS by ESRI. QGIS can be used on a PC, Mac, or Linux platforms (unlike ArcGIS, which can only be used with Microsoft Windows). In addition, since QGIS is open source, there are no licensing fees – an important consideration for my mapping project, since the funding for the project will be scarce at best. One other thing: by using QGIS instead of other proprietary GIS programs, my mapping project will be supporting the free-flow of ideas and an intellectual commons that is open not just to users, but also to anyone capable of making a useful contribution to GIS technologies – even without having to jump through academic hoops and hoopla.

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 11.05.04 AM

Here is a screen shot of my first QGIS map – New Mexico!!

To begin my studies, I followed a tutorial available on the blog, Geospatial Historian, which is maintained by a group of scholars located in Canada. Conceptually, QGIS was a little difficult to wrap my head around (I’m still struggling a bit), and like all software GIS technologies have their own unique terminology. Luckily, I was invited by my colleague Elena Friot to attend a GIS workshop given by Dr. Karl Benedict, assistant professor in the Earth Data Analysis Center at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Benedict gave a very clear introduction to the basics of GIS. This made my own efforts with QGIS much more productive. I am looking forward to learning more.

DSC_0037Our GIS workshop at the Earth Data Analysis Center, University of New Mexico

Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 3): Searching for Prostitutes in the US Census of 1850

The most basic aspect of the Albuquerque Red Light District Project is the location and collection of data. Even though this is a digital mapping project, the data that informs the map exists mostly in archival records – paper and microfilm. That means trips to archives and libraries in order to access documents that contain necessary data. Once that data is located, the task is to make sense of it in way that demonstrates the transformation and eventual disappearance of legal, regulated prostitution in Downtown Albuquerque from 1850 to 1950.

This week I began the process by going through the US Census of 1850. All censuses from New Mexico (including Mexican and Spanish Imperial censuses) are housed at The Center for Southwest Research, a massive archive located at Zimmerman Library on the campus of the University of New Mexico. The census has been transferred to microfilm, which is a roll of film containing photo images of the actual handwritten census pages taken in 1850. My current task is to go through the entire census for Albuquerque, or (in the case of the 1850 census) Bernalillo County, and see if there are any women listed as prostitutes – especially if there are more than one living together in the same household. That would suggest a possible brothel.

ImageZimmerman Library, University of New Mexico (2013)

ImageThe Center for Southwest Research, Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico (2013)

As I find listed prostitutes and probable brothels in the census, I type the data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. If you look at the images below, you will see that the census not only gives the location of a household, but also the name, age, sex, and birthplace of each resident, as well as the size of any real estate held. So there is a lot of data that can be gleaned from the census tables. It tells us a lot. One of the difficulties in a census from the mid-19th century, is it only notes the profession of males over the age of 15. Later censuses noted the profession men, women, and children. So, if no prostitutes are listed in the 1850 census (like they are in the 1900 census), it cannot be because they were not there. Surely they were. The question is, why weren’t they counted? One answer might be that since this was the first US Census taken after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), it was a census taken by a Imperial conqueror who is taking stock of who and what can be taxed – much like William the Conqueror did in England with the Domesday Book in 1086. Just a thought.

ImageNotice that the US Census of 1850 only listed the profession of males over the age of 15.ImageNote that skilled professionals often came from Europe, like the 38 year-old miller from Germany, and the 36 year-old bookbinder from France – a woman!!

Whether or not I locate prostitutes or brothels in the 1850 census, there are many things that the US Census makes clear about the New Mexico Territory in 1850. First, this was an agricultural world populated by poor famers, small time sheepherders, unskilled laborers, domestic servants, and their families. There were wealthy landowners, but not many. One of the largest landholders was the Church (5000 acres). Most of the skilled and professional men were immigrants from Western Europe, who perhaps were intent on making their fortune in the Far West. In 1850, Albuquerque was not much more than a collection of adobe houses and shops, surrounded by farms and irrigation ditches. The largest building was the Church of San Felipe de Neri (built 1706). It is likely that he American deputy who took the census was not familiar with the mostly Spanish-speaking people and their culture. Maybe he was not able to recognize sex workers; or maybe he chose to ignore them. Add to that, the hostility that men have historically directed towards women in general, and poor women in particular. Maybe women who traded sex for money, goods, and services were morally “invisible,” which justified their virtual absence. Whatever was the case in 1850, prostitutes were there, I am almost certain. But, can I find documentation to confirm it? That is the task.

Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 2): Google Fusion & The Search for Mapping Software

This week I have initiated the process of finding a suitable set of mapping technologies for my Red Light District of Old Albuquerque (working title?) project. In a blog by UCLA’s Miram Posner, I ran across a project that maps the location of hotels and restaurants in the U.S. that were open to African Americans travelers during the Jim Crow/pre-Civil Rights era. The locations in on the map were taken from The Negro Traveler’s Green Book, which was a travel guide published from the 1930s-1960s designed to help African American tourists to safely and comfortably travel. While the visual presentation and design of the map is a bit pedestrian for my taste, it does effectively reconstruct a vanished historical landscape. So, it is a good model to use as a starting point for the construction of my project.

Among the tools that The Negro Traveler’s Green Book map project uses is Google Fusion, a fairly straightforward mapping application that does not demand any special skills of the user. It is relatively simple. Once a data set (street addresses; GPS co-ordinates; etc) is put into a spreadsheet program (such as Microsoft Excel), then it can be uploaded as an entirely to the Fusion application. With just a few mouse clicks, the coordinates and/or addresses in the spreadsheet data are then translated into clickable points on a Google Map.

Not only does Fusion quickly create a map, each clickable point on the map also reflects the data in the spreadsheet.  For example, clicking on a map point would bring up a box containing the coordinate/address associated with that point, and any additional information contained in the spreadsheet, such as a photograph and/or document. In addition, Google Fusion also retains the actual spreadsheet, so users interacting with a map can click on a tab that will take them to a Google version of the source document. So, to some extent, Fusion creates the map while preserving a transparency regarding the data set the map is based on.

This may be a good application for me to start with since it does not demand any special programming skills  (of which I have none!). Plus, I like the idea of using open source/publicly available technologies as much as possible. My one criticism is that the graphic interface is a bit clunky. This leads me to wonder if there is a way to use Google Fusion as the underlying mapping software, while overlaying it with a design-driven software to make a more elegant and aesthetically appealing user interface. Maybe seeking out that type of software should be the next step forward in this project.

Albuquerque’s Historic Red Light District (Part 1): Initial Thoughts on Mapping the Past

For my first serious foray into Digital History, I have decided to create a website that maps the old Red Light District in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. The map will begin with data from the United States Census of 1900, just because I have seen that particular census and know that brothels are listed along with the women who worked and lived in them. The plan is to eventually map the District from 1850 (the year of the first US Census taken in the New Mexico), to 1950 the last census year in which prostitution was legal (prostitution was outlawed in New Mexico in 1953). My view is that it would be interesting and instructive to see a graphic representation on how the practice of legal prostitution changed over the century before it was banned. Plus, it is going to be fun. That is important to me.

I will start with mapping software of some sort, and peg the GIS co-ordinates of the addresses/locations in the census documents to Google Maps. This will be overlain with contemporary maps of downtown Albuquerque circa 1900. The map will be interactive. Users will be able to click on a location to see detailed information on a particular brothel, an image of the census document, and any court records and/or newspaper articles connected with the location.

Interestingly, this project dovetails with J. L. Gaddis’, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. While Gaddis is more-or-less using cartography as a metaphor for the production of works of history, his thoughts on the similarities between cartography and history have been helpful to me in thinking about how to approach the Red Light project. Gaddis argues that cartography is a metaphor for the physical landscape that “takes place by fitting representation to reality” (p. 34). For Gaddis, the success of a map in representing the reality of a landscape “depends on how well the mapmaker achieves a fit between the landscape that’s being mapped and the requirements of those for whom the map is made” (ibid).

Gaddis’ thoughts on the matter are doubly useful, since this Red Light project is both the metaphorical mapping of the past and the literal creation of an actual map. So the Red Light project seeks to map the historical and ideological terrain of legal prostitution, as it existed from 1890 to 1950, by creating a multilayered interactive set of “enriched” maps.

For the next few months then, this blog will be tracking the progress of this project with an eye toward transparency in methodology. In plain English, I am going to be upfront about how this map is created, what worked, and what didn’t work. It should be fun work.


John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002).

Digital History and Comic Books (Part II): Alan Moore, Hayden White, and Non-Narrative History

Digital Humanists in general, and Digital Historians in particular, can learn a few things from British comic book writer, Alan Moore. Since the 1970s, Moore’s comic book writing has not only transformed the comic book into a sophisticated literary genre, but also has explored the issue of space/time compression in ways that could be useful for Digital Humanists to consider. Moore is among the most renowned comic creators in the history of the medium. Arguably, he has emerged as the most radically innovative writer of comics. In 1983 DC Comics hired Moore to revamp Swamp Thing, a project that solidified his growing reputation as a writer unmoored to genre conventions. Moore’s three-year run on Swamp Thing established the themes of his writing which set him apart from his peers. His innovations are too numerous to list here, save for a few: disregard of traditional notions of chronology, layering of parallel, related realities, collage of genres, and compelling the reader to construct meaning through the use of fragmentary evidence.

Historian Hayden White has written about the centrality of constructing narrative in the production of history. White considers narrative to be a solution to the “problem of how to translate knowing into telling” (p. 5) Constructing a narrative, as White conceives of it, is largely a matter of writing and publishing books and articles – words that continue until a narrative reaches closure. White poses a question: “[w]hat would a non-narrative representation of historical reality look like?” (p. 9). This is the question that the Digital Humanities is trying to answer. Many digital humanists seek to provide a computing-based alternative to the entirely-written narrative. This is where Alan Moore’s work can be instructive.

Moore’s groundbreaking comic, Watchmen, contains methods of storytelling of use to digital humanists. Taken as a whole, Watchmen is a non-linear presentation of a body of evidence, which is given to the reader, who is expected to piece the story together into a narrative. The evidence comes in the form of sequential art, medical records, newspaper clippings, “television” reportage, and even a comic book within Watchmen itself. As complex as this concept is, it was wildly successful – so much so that Watchmen was made into a motion picture. Moore’s technique works. The story of Watchmen moves back and forth through time with little context, and often without words. In addition, his use of embedding genre within the comic adds a layer of narrative that is accomplished obliquely, by inference of the reader. All of this occurs, and Moore still satisfies White’s demand that non-narrative storytelling, be “revealed as possessing a structure, and order of meaning” that is absent in a mere sequencing of events (pg. 9)

Moore’s storytelling techniques are a good model for a digital humanities website.


Alan Moore, The Saga of The Swamp Thing, Books I-IV (New York: DC Comics, 2009).

________. Watchmen (New York: DC Comics, 1986).

Hayden White. “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7 (Autumn 1980): 5-27.