Timeline: February 2018-February 2019
In 1908 Houston created a formal red-light district on its western edge along Buffalo Bayou. Although freed slaves had settled on the land since Emancipation, the city claimed the area held “only a few Negro huts.” When the city dissolved the district in 1917, newspapers wondered who would use buildings formerly occupied by prostitutes. To date, scholarship on the Reservation focuses largely on the legal history, relying on newspapers and city records in a way that privileges elite, Anglo perspectives. Some scholarship explores the prostitutes’ experiences. However, experiences of people living in the area as it became the Reservation are almost entirely absent. Begun in the summer of 2016, the Reservation Story Map Project aims to complicate these narratives through a public history website of primary materials enabling users to explore the area from the perspective of those who lived and worked there. The project will be a useful resource for a range of high school and university classes, and substantially contribute to studies of race, sexuality, economics, and urban development in the Progressive Era South. With initial support from Rice’s Century Scholars program, a proof of concept was created in September 2017 using Story Maps and ARCGIS: http://arcg.is/2jMMRh8.
That proof of concept utilizes existing scholarship, historic map images, basic United States census data, limited Houston city directory data, and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1900 to 1920. After reviewing the proof of concept, the Gregory School of African-American History has expressed interest in collaborating formally to offer subject expertise, archival resources, and potential public event space. Funding from the Resilient Networks Grant would significantly support several expansions to the existing site. One expansion would improve the accessibility of the Houston City Directory data. While scanned pages are available in PDF form through the Houston Area Digital Archive website of Houston Public Library, the web platform allows only one PDF to be searched at a time. This project proposes to work with Houston Public Library and Rice’s Center for Research Computing to run OCR enabled PDFs of the city directories through an algorithm that can search more effectively and then clean the resulting data, likely with OpenRefine. This process will allow the project to capture all information associated with addresses known to be within the area of the reservation, especially for those years in which the directories lack a street index reverse lookup. Four other expansions are projected. One would render JPEG images of tax assessors’ notes and block book data from the Harris County Archives into an ARCGIS-useable format, and create the necessary layers in ARCGIS to manage that data. A third would perform similar work for the full range of census data in 1900, 1910, and 1920. The fourth would incorporate relevant articles and images from the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle. A final phase would refine the aesthetics of the user interface for all data types.