Cinema & Cultural Geography

Click Map to Enlarge Image

This visualization represents a ‘social quality’ index for Springfield, MA based on data collected by the social and religious geographer Harlan Paul Douglass in 1926. Similar to the redlining maps produced by Home Owners’ Loan Corporation during the Depression, Douglass visualized contemporaneous perceptions of ‘desirable and undesirable’ parts of the city based on factors such as industrialization, housing congestion, ethnicity, race, child labor, poverty, and juvenile delinquency (click here to explore the interactive version of Douglass’s maps).

Originally a context for understanding the location of churches and their movement from the central city to surrounding suburbs, Douglass’s maps shed light on the cultural geography of moviegoing when combined with theater location data from that era. Among other insights, the maps chart a spatial overlap between the emergence and development of movies and those parts of the city that were heavily industrialized and populated by first generation immigrants and, to a lesser extent, African-Americans. With the exception of two short-lived theaters that sprung up along the border separating the top-rated McKnight and Bay district from the Pearl and Hill districts, it was only later during the 1910s and 1920s that movies successfully expanded into areas characterized by Douglass as having ‘above average social quality.’ For a detailed analysis of moviegoing patterns in Springfield as these were embedded in systems of social stratification and cultural distinction, see Class Markers in the Mass Movie Audience.