Two tours of historical Missouri

Before the internet, where we can instantly find photos from anywhere in the United States and the rest of the world, there was the American Guide series. Noted by Marguerite Shaffer as “the more visible and successful New Deal projects,” the American Guide series educated Americans on America and encouraged tourism across the States.1

Tourism, however, looked different for different Americans. In “Mapping racism and assessing the success of the digital humanities,” Sarah Bond explains how “digital mapping has changed our understanding and access to issues regarding race, segregation, and social justice in the United States.” 2

Let’s take a look at a map of a tourist route from West Ely, Missouri to Dover, Missouri, constructed from a suggested tour in “Missouri, a guide to the “Show Me” state.”

Though my choice for selecting the state came from a trip I once took to Kansas City, Missouri, I learned interesting facts about several other places within the state.

For example, a school in West Ely called Marion college was shut down for becoming involved “in theological controversies and antislavery activities.”3 Monroe City was a major shipping point, and De Witt was at the center of the Mormon War of 1838.

With two mentions of religion within only five places in Missouri, the American Guide reveals the state has a religious background. A 2004 Gallup study confirms this revelation by showing that even now the state is religious, as only 8.4% of Missouri’s population is nonreligious. 4

When we take a look at a similar map from “Navigating the Green Book,” we can see how African American tourism compares to the described tourism routes in the American Guide series.

Despite multiple stops along the original tourist route, African American citizens would have no access to dining accommodations and only one place to rest. Needless to say, the original concept of tourism was not intended for everyone, and by mapping even a small segment of the United States we can see this injustice.

From digital mapping, we can comprehend history in a way we cannot by staring at numbers and data sets. We can see injustice. We can see inequality. And we can see the changes that we need to make in the world, the voices from the past we need to recover, and the future that we need to protect. Digital mapping gives us a way to look at the past from an aerial view and plan for the future with a better understanding.

  1. Marguerite Shaffer. (n.d.). See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 18801940.
  2. Sarah Bond. (n.d.). Mapping Racism And Assessing the Success of the Digital Humanities. History From Below.
  3. Missouri: A Guide to the “Show Me” State. (1941). pp. 367

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