The power of racial mapping: Ellsworth Huntington, immigration, and eugenics in the Progressive Era

Colm Lavery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

Racial mapping during the Progressive Era played into the political narratives of eugenic intervention and immigration restriction. This article argues that the racial cartographic work of the Yale geographer and prolific eugenicist Ellsworth Huntington was both developed within and contributed to this racist milieu. Huntington’s middle-class and educated upbringing, his familial history, and his expertise as a well-travelled geographer all conspired to shape his views on eugenics, race, and immigration. By applying the critical cartographic theories of John Brian Harley, Denis Wood, Heather Winlow, and others, I show that Huntington’s racial maps were a product of his cultural and political environment. The success of a map’s impact was often due to maps being seen as objective depictions of spatial variation. Indeed, for Huntington they performed an essential role in communicating and portraying racial information. But, as I argue, they were susceptible to bias, misunderstanding, and intentional manipulation. I show that Huntington’s maps are not accurate snapshots of reality, but rather cultural texts or rhetorical images intended to create a narrative and convince the reader of a particular subjective point of view.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-278
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Volume21
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes

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