I am having a blast getting students enrolled this semester in my “Antebellum America” class ready for their cumulative mapmaking project. They must “tell a story” using a map. In other words, they will focus on a theme and see how it can be mapped using existing things and structures no longer with us. To get them started, I showed them some of the maps of New York edited in part by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro.
Now, I have gathered some maps from our university’s wonderful Cartographic Lab. Above is a map made by Basil Manly, a Baptist minister, slaveholder and former UA President (1837-1855), for whom Manly Hall is named. I have asked the students to ponder how a map is merely a decision. Someone decided to emphasize certain things. What will they emphasize? What all will the map say about who has power and who has not? How might we include even the lowliest person – the so-called southern belle, the enslaved and the working class man – in the narrative on the basis of the things we choose or leave out?
Our semester will include lots of trips outdoors where we will use the campus and city as a lab to learn about the past, but also our complex past. Indeed, Senator Robert Jemison Jr. partly relied on the resources of Horace King, an enslaved man, to help build the bridges that helped modernize our region. Below is a hand drawn 1905 map of the Black Warrior River on which many products and people traveled as industry began to boom in Alabama on the heels of a long rebuilding process after the Civil War.
First up, a visit to Gorgas House where they will learn about many early Alabamians, among them Sarah Haynsworth Gayle, a no-nonsense woman whose diary was recently edited by Dr. Sarah Wiggins, the first woman to teach in our History Department. Gayle, mother of Amelia Gayle Gorgas whose family’s name appears on university buildings, had no use for her “insolent” enslaved people. She was also impatient with some of UA’s earliest students who once kidnapped a “servant.” The sheriff and about 15-20 local men were called in to deal with these young men who were known to also chase Baptist minister Alva Woods, this one from New England. Woods served as UA’s President from the moment the school opened in 1831 in a still frontier part of the country to 1837. “Were I in his place, I would positively make myself an object of fear to them, if I could not be one of love and reverence,” she said of the sheriff’s efforts in making these young men walk right and step lively, which some of them did by the time UA became a military college mid-century.
What all did she see in and outside of Tuscaloosa before her death in 1835? And what all did she have to say about the people rushing here filled with what was known as “Alabama fever”?
Finally, below is a map of our campus in 1941. Football is already part of our narrative. Can you find the stadium in which Paul “Bear” Bryant will win games by the 1960s and Nick Saban the same in a new millennium? We look forward to working with so many people in our university and local community as we embark on this project, which ultimately pays homage to Tuscaloosa and Alabama’s 200th birthday next year and all of the people, known and unknown, who have played a huge role in our longevity.