Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Problem #7: Maps

Episode Seven: In which our hero learns that sometimes, failure IS an option.

In the April 1881 issue (Vol. XXI. Iss. No. 6., pages 830-836) of Scribner's Magazine, an article entitled "A Georgia Plantation" included two maps of "Barrow's Plantation" in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The first map, dated 1860, appeared on page 832 and showed how the plantation buildings were organized when it had been a slave-based plantation. The second, dated 1881, appeared on page 833, and illustrated how much more dispersed and decentralized living and work-buildings were after slavery had ended; the institution of sharecropping did allow former masters and whites in general to exercise much more economic and social control over African-American sharecroppers than before, but this control was not total, as the second map clearly shows.

These two maps have been reprinted frequently in American history textbooks frequently--so frequently, in fact, that I have come across casual and knowing references to them in book reviews, without even bothering to specify which textbook pictures the reviewer is referring to.

However, Professor Petrik told us that there was a "major error" in the plantation map. I have not found what I consider a "major error." The original map identified four rivers/streams, three of which appear to have had their names changed--only Syll's Ford is still referred to as such in this list of streams and rivers in the county. That is not an error, however. It is true that the map Dr. Petrik gave us identifies the stream flowing above the "Gin House" as "Wright's Fork" while the original map she reproduced referred to it as "White's Branch", but I don't consider this a "major" error. None of the buildings or other features in the map Dr. Petrik provided us are noticably differnt from the original. Cross-referencing the original text with the original map, I did find a slight discrepancy--the author claimed that the "Gin House" was not moved, but on the map it is moved, slightly to the right, and turned less than a quarter-turn counter-clockwise. Again, I am not sure that this is a "major" error; or even really an 'error' at all if one considers a slight alteration inconsequential.

You'll note that I said Wright's Branch was "above" the Gin House; and that the Gine House moved to "the right." I did not use North or East in my explanation because I did find out from some other sources, including page 91 of "The Cotton Plantation South Since the Civil War" by Charles S. Aiken, that these two maps are not oriented North. What is actually North appears to be, roughly, Southwest-west, on this map. I still don't know if this is actually an 'major' error; given that virtually all maps in our culture are oriented by North by default, it's certainly a standard expectation that any given map is oriented north unless otherwise indicated. But is this a "major" error, in that for the purposes of the original article and argument, the map is essentially self-contained, and in no way needs to be related to other maps.

So, I think I have failed. I have also--in my rather fruitless efforts to work this problem out--allowed myself to run out of time, so that I will not have time to find pictures of the modern-day property. However, thanks to the "Hometown Locater" site above, I was able to get a latitude (33.6942922) and longitude (-82.9970944) for Syl's Creek. With this, it was easy to go to the National Geographic mapsite and get this map; which I believe shows the outline of Syl's Fork and then then-named Branch Creek meeting to form the then-named Little River; the lighter areas show the basic outline. I believe this map shows nearly all the original plantation, except for the far eastern portion.

With a better use of time, and a more carefully planned research strategy, I believe I could have found more information and fleshed out my response to the problem much more adequately.

1 comment:

Michael Shumaker said...

I thought the research you did on the streams was interesting. I looked at the buildings first but your approach, I didn't even think of. I thought it was funny you use that book, I was referred to it as well by a geologist from Oglethorpe county.