NOTE: Our project was called “Mapping the Du Bois Philadelphia Negro” or simply “Mapping Du Bois” from 2006 – 2011. We renamed the project “The Ward: Race and Class in Du Bois’ Seventh Ward” in 2012.
The Ward is a research, teaching, and public history project dedicated to sharing the timeless lessons about racism and the role of research in affecting social change from W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1899 book,
The Philadelphia Negro.
Using new technologies and old to bring this classic study to life, The Ward seeks to
Professional services provided by
Funding provided by
Program for Research on Religion & Urban Civil Society Robert A. Fox Leadership Program
History of The Ward
from the Project Director
The seeds for The Ward were sown in a graduate urban ethnography course at the University of Pennsylvania taught by Elijah Anderson. The Philadelphia Negro was among the texts we read, and having written the introduction to the most recent edition and having taught the book for years, Professor Anderson conveyed great enthusiasm for W.E.B. Du Bois and his investigation of Philadelphia’s Old Seventh Ward. At the time, I was pursuing a PhD in social welfare and living in a small apartment in downtown Philadelphia at the edge of the Seventh Ward. Having just been introduced to geographic information system (GIS) mapping software in another course, I casually wrote in the margin of one of the maps in the book “needs GIS.” That was the spring of 1998.
After completing my dissertation on historical mortgage redlining, I worked at Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab where I assisted faculty members who wanted to integrate GIS mapping and spatial data into their research. Most of my work related to contemporary public health and housing research, but after using GIS to explore redlining in Philadelphia, I was sold on the power of historical GIS. I was in search of a demonstration project that I could use to persuade others on campus and in Philadelphia that GIS was the way to share the rich history of Philadelphia. Du Bois’ Seventh Ward was just one of several possible topics I considered. I ultimately chose it on practical grounds; the Seventh Ward was a relatively small and very discrete geographic area so it seemed feasible to map. Also, it was Penn’s story to tell, having hired Du Bois to conduct the research. I could help honor his research in a way the University failed to when it chose not to offer him a faculty position.
We began our work in the spring of 2004—one undergraduate research assistant collecting the census records for one small section of the Seventh Ward. By the summer of 2005, we had pilot grants from Penn’s University Research Fund and the Penn Institute for Urban Research to hire more students, and a 2006 teaching and learning grant from the National Endowment for Humanities allowed us to complete data collection and build the Seventh Ward GIS. As our resources expanded and more talented students joined our team, our vision for the project expanded. What about a documentary? A board game? A mural? There were other ideas—a Facebook-like site where residents from the Seventh Ward would blog and network, a cell phone application that would deliver photographs and historical census data during a walking tour—that we considered but weren’t able to execute. Imagining what we could do was half the fun. The 2006 NEH grant for teaching and learning solidified our focus on developing curriculum materials. We chose to focus on high school students despite warnings from a sympathetic NEH program officer who was worried that the conservative NEH commissioners wouldn’t like the idea of teaching high school students about a communist. From a practical standpoint, high school students are a captive audience. In Philadelphia, public high school students are required to take a course in African and African American History, and beyond Philadelphia, all high school students take a course in U.S. History. But more than just a captive audience, we saw high school students as curious and hungry for engagement and challenge. Perhaps they could tackle these tricky issues of race and racism with the honesty and open-mindedness needed to affect change.
The original name for this project was Mapping the Du Bois Philadelphia Negro which we often shortened to Mapping Du Bois. The Ward was the name we came up with for our board game. We wanted something short, since most board game names are only one or two words, that would convey the sense of action and drama that would make a game compelling to students. More than just a name for the game, The Ward became the identity for our larger project. We launched our new website with this new name in the summer of 2012.