Confronting the Medium Scale Lies of Urban Histories: A Granular Geographical Analysis of Residential Segregation in U.S. Cities, 1860-1870

Authors: Robert C Shepard*, University of Iowa
Topics: Historical Geography, Urban Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: residential segregation, historical geography, social geography, urban history, GIS
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban geographers and urban historians often have relied on aggregate data collected at larger areal units such as city wards and census tracts to investigate residential segregation as it existed in Nineteenth century American cities, especially before 1880 when census takers did not record address information that would enable geocoding for household-level data. This study developed historical address locator systems for three large American cities for the years 1860 – 1870 (Washington, D.C. and Nashville, Tennessee in 1860; Omaha, Nebraska in 1870), and linked the extensive data from census records with individual city directory accounts (which contained address information) in order to geolocate residents and investigate patterns of historical socioeconomic residential segregation on a more granular level. Initial findings, based on the index of dissimilarity calculated at the city block level, indicate that free people of color experienced substantially more residential segregation than previously identified (e.g. a dissimilarity index value of 65.5 in Washington in 1860, compared to an expected value of roughly 45). In those locations with relatively few free people of color, Irish and German immigrants instead experienced significantly higher residential segregation relative to the native-born population. Overall, this paper demonstrates that changes in residents’ race, ethnicity and wealth happened within very small areas and in peculiar spatial patterns that escape those arbitrary boundaries at which historical geodemographic information are often studied. Finally, an interactive online map exhibit, Placing Segregation, makes the raw data available for further scholarly analysis.

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