Haverford College and UPenn Collaborate on the Du Bois Project

UPenn professor Amy Hillier works with Haverford College students to resuscitate a seminal study of race relations: W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1899 book, The Philadelphia Negro.

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UPenn’s Amy Hillier validates and celebrates the work of W.E.B. Du Bois. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)For Michael Franklin, it was a dream project. The English major was instantly drawn to the subject matter: W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1899 book The Philadelphia Negro, and how it sparked a discussion of race within the city and across the nation.

“What interested me most was the way it combined research components with creative elements,” says Franklin, now a Haverford College senior. “It allowed me to be analytical, while also allowing me to make the subject more accessible to a larger population.”

As it turns out, that’s always been the goal of Mapping the Du Bois Philadelphia Negro, a project that combines technology and archival data to recreate the survey he conducted of Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward for his seminal book. In it, the NAACP’s eventual founder offered what proved to be a historic sociological analysis of black urban life.

Of late, there’s been a convergence of efforts to recognize black America’s influence in the city. Of particular note is the President’s House and its unique story of slavery, and the push for a City Hall statue of Octavius Catto, whose 1871 murder made him a martyr to racism. The Du Bois project is the work of the University of Pennsylvania’s Amy Hillier and local students. Every summer for the past five years, the assistant professor at the PennDesign Department of City & Regional Planning has had help from students at the high school, college and graduate levels—bright interns like Haverford’s Franklin, who took his turn last summer. To date, the team has built an interactive mapping website that allows visitors to see who lived in Seventh Ward houses when Du Bois conducted his study. There’s also “The Ward: Race and Class in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward,” a creative board game and five-day high school curriculum Hillier expects to pilot in 10 city schools starting in February, Black History Month.

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