- Putting Them on the Map: Mapping the Agents of the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company by Alisha Knight
Scholars agree that the Colored American Magazine had, during its existence, the greatest readership of any journal of its kind owned and operated by African Americans. Yet very little is known about how such a vast circulation was cultivated and sustained by its publisher, the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company. Alisha Knight’s Putting Them on the Map: Mapping the Agents of the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company begins to excavate such a history and points scholars and educators in English, history, communications, geographic information systems (GIS), and other disciplines in intriguing new directions.
Knight used Esri’s ArcGIS StoryMaps to create Putting Them on the Map as an interactive web app. She also acknowledges the assistance of Washington College’s GIS program. GIS is an information technology for creating, managing, and analyzing geographic data to better understand and share knowledge about the world. To produce her geographic data, Knight relied on creative sleuthing in telephone directories, Colored American Magazine issues, and federal census records that detail the agents’ numbers and lives. Putting Them on the Map is an innovative interdisciplinary project that weds science and the humanities to powerfully quantify unrecognized developments, strategies, and places in African American literature and publishing.
In fifteen different multimedia tabs, Putting Them on the Map provides geographic, demographic, and biographical information on Colored American Magazine’s salespeople from May 1900 to July 1904. The magazine was owned [End Page 338] by the Colored Co-operative Company from May 1900 to May 1904, when it was then purchased by Fred R. Moore and operated by the Moore Publishing and Printing Company. The “Overview” and “Boston Headquarters” tabs on the left-hand side of the home page present brief introductions to the site’s purpose and organization and to the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company. Knight collaborates with readers, asking, “How did a small black publishing firm with a modest ‘handful of readers’ reach the point where it could consider itself ‘the mouth-piece and inspiration of the Negro race throughout not only this country, but the world’?” (Overview). The tabs, labeled according to the issues of the magazine that enclose an agent list, answer this question by highlighting the socioeconomic statuses of Colored American Magazine’s agents, their unequivocally successful efforts to secure subscribers in the United States as well as abroad, and the commitment to racial uplift that unified them.
Like Matryoshka dolls, the primary pleasure of the site lies in clicking on each tab to be surprised by Knight’s discoveries. They offer a map covered in black dots representing agents and contextualization of their period with the Colored American Magazine. Most of these dots provide the name of the agents and a home or business address through a clicked pop-up, but some only provide statistics on the total number of agents in a state. The curation of the data on the map also varies. For example, some tabs offer images and professional sketches of particular agents, but others only provide more general information, such as the procedures of branch offices. In addition, sometimes information appears in two ways: through the black markers as well as a bar the viewer may move across a map to experience a color-coded visualization of agent expansion.
Although Knight’s interpretations are at times speculative, they and the smorgasbord design of the Story Map work well together because they encourage viewers to conduct their own analyses and inquiries. Indeed, Putting Them on the Map suggests that further investigation of Colored American Magazine editor Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins’s role in the establishment of agents across the globe and influence on international and state-level African American politics is needed. In particular, the tab focused on a cohort of African American women agents compels additional study of whether the scope of Hopkins’s dedication to women’s empowerment extended beyond her public lectures...