The origin of this project was to look past the well-known murders, and the long-accepted consensus about the neighborhood. Was Whitechapel already known as the worst area of London before 1888? Did the Whitechapel murders reaffirm stereotypes, or did they help craft them? Has our contemporary fascination with Jack the Ripper distorted our sense of the actual murders in the nineteenth century?
The data that forms the backbone of this project comes from digitized newspapers. We used grant money to purchase a two-year subscription to the British Newspaper Archive. This resource is the result of a partnership between the British Library and findmypast wherein they have digitised 20 million newspaper pages (to date). This collection includes national dailies, newspapers from all major cities including Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, and York. There is also an impressive collection of county and regional newspapers. This coverage allows both local perspectives on Whitechapel, along with regional and national perspectives from Dublin to the Isle of Man.
We also included the Times and the Illustrated London News, available through a library subscription at my home institution, Wilfrid Laurier University. These sources are searchable by keyword some span the ten-year period, while others only offer partial coverage of the period (see more information about the newspapers in the download section).
This project also demonstrates a way to begin deep mapping; that is a way of getting a sense of place through understanding multiple levels of data and information.1 In the larger research project, Milne-Smith is combining the data on this map with literary sources, travel journals and medical reports to flesh out a multilayered understanding of Whitechapel.
A deep map is an elastic term that sometimes doesn’t refer to a map at all; it can also include an essay analyzing the meaning of a neighborhood or area. Deep maps can encompass ambiguities as well as clarity; they encourage an understanding of multiple points of view; and they often highlight how space is shaped by race, class, gender, emotion, able-ness, etc. The map on this website charting newspaper data reflects multiple media outposts’ representations of Whitechapel as a whole.
As a cultural historian, it is difficult to tease out much that is quantifiable or concrete in the late-Victorian era. The sheer volume of material makes broad conclusions difficult, if not impossible. However, there is a challenge in simply trying to quantify cultural sources. This mapping site is an attempt to bring together the benefits of social and cultural history through a spatial analysis. The approach combines both digital humanities technologies and the judgement of actual human brains. The ability to scan thousands of newspaper articles for keywords allows for an enormous, quantifiable set of sources. The technology helped us identify articles, and then researchers read to determine how the neighborhood of Whitechapel was represented by the media. Such analysis required the team to do what a computer (as of yet) cannot do; determine the tone and judgement of each article. A story about poverty did not necessarily reflect badly on the neighbourhood, and could be a tale of perseverance and hard work. Equally, an account of a public lecture was not always positive, if it detailed a rowdy audience of drunken louts. We also tagged every particular story that related to crime, sex, or violence.
The resulting map allows users to get a sense of the stories shared about Whitechapel in the contemporary press over a ten-year period. This website visually maps the narratives of Whitechapel gathered from almost 5,000 newspaper stories.
This website is one part of a larger attempt to understand in the broadest possible way how people conceptualized late-Victorian Whitechapel. The concrete mapping project follows the spirit of Charles Booth’s social cartography. Booth’s descriptive poverty maps were published in 1889 and 1899 to visually highlight the wealth distribution of the city of London. His project started in 1886 when Booth set out to investigate the working and living conditions of London’s East End community. His published work, Labour and Life of the People, was the beginning of a series of publications of books and maps; it was also part of a larger wave of social investigation.2 Booth’s maps relied on school board visitor reports, and social investigators who accompanied policemen on their beats. For this project, we substitute newspaper reports for social investigators. The media had as many biases and prejudices as Booth’s team; and yet in offers a more diverse array of perspectives on the city. And while Whitechapel is my focus, it is was not the immediate focus of every press article, which allows more everyday and representational depictions of the area.
However, this is only one way to unpack the competing narratives about the East End. Further research includes travel narratives, social investigators, Medical Officer of Health Reports, government inquiries, and works of fiction. This data will form the basis of an article comparing and contrasting different points of view about the district.
Since Habermas’ revelation that the new public sphere of Georgian England was crafted by discourse, and produced in relation to an “oppositional counter-public,” scholars have explored how language shapes understandings of a city.3 The spatial turn has more recently profoundly affected not only geographers, but scholars working across the arts and social sciences.4 In particular, such work draws attention to the fact that ideas of space must be recognized as the production of multiple voices and perspectives.5 Space is experienced and represented by different groups in different ways; this, in turn, influences actions in and about that space. Feminist scholars have uncovered how geographies could be unstable, provisional, and often overlapping.6 A study of the East End of London is a natural focus for study as wealthy residents of the West End of London demonized and fetishized their poor neighbours.7 The experience of the city was deeply shaped by narratives provided not only in crime statistics and official reports, but also popular cultural texts.8 The spatial economy of the city was set as an imagined central, moral city in the West posited against a transgressive other to the East. Recent scholarship has pointed out competing narratives of that space as a site of adventure and potential for reform.9