Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Teaching Thursday. Growing GIS Pains

The first major project that my Migration Architecture students have to complete is a spatial analysis of sixteen blocks in Philadelphia. Located in the southeast quadrant of William Penn’s city, this is both the colonial core of the city but also the epicenter of the African-American, Russian-Jewish, Greek and artist enclaves. Our goal is to create new digital data. We will digitize all the 1916 buildings (based on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map) and connect those buildings with their occupants (as listed in the 1920 US census). The students will also analyze the buildings that still survive and create a neighborhood narrative.
Learning ArcGIS is a central component of the class but it is not the subject of my lectures. I have created a sequence of exercises that the students can perform on their own with the help of tutorials. Their first challenge was to understand the complicated file structures of ArcGIS. This is the first stumbling block. The second challenge was to perform a georeferencing operation. Although pretty straightforward as operations, they were extremely difficult for the students. The problem was not the directions from the tutorials or the commands within the software but the inability to right-click on things, or manage files in ways that digital natives have learned to do. In other words, the problem was ArcGIS complicated file structure. 

Although everyone carried out the georeferencing tutorial, only about half of the class managed to successfully georeferenced a Sanborn map. And from that half, no one followed my instructions of keeping all their operations within a distinct file. The problem with sequenced digital assignments is that you cannot stop and make the students repeat the exercise when they have collectively failed for three reasons. One, the students get frustrated. They have already performed that operation and feel that their time investment alone was worth it. Having the students repeat the operation is, therefore, demoralizing. Two, the assignment must continue into the second phase of data manipulation, so that the project can be completed at the planned time. Three, the project is collective so the data produced by each student will ultimately be used by all students. The early mistakes of one student affect the final study. Quality control must be maintained sequentially and cannot be enforced punitively by a bad individual grade.

I resolved the discrepancy in quality of georeferencing among the 16 students by fixing their mistakes myself. This way, for their next assignment (digitizing) they can be on a common ground and we will not have any compounded error. The advantage of handing them a georeferenced Arc Map is that I can assure that they will not complicate the various settings.

Managing software learning in the classroom is tricky. I did not want to turn the classroom into a class on software. In class we cover theories, methods, and history. The software learning happens over the weekend as the main homework assignment. My students were practically up in arms when they realized that the only place they can do their assignment is at a particular GIS lab in the library that is used by other students and classes. They hated the idea that they could not simply download the software on their computers and do their homework at their dorms.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Teaching Thursday: Graphic Novel Migration Architecture

The first week of my Migration Architecture class is over. With the anxieties of a new class and a new group of students waning, I am ready to talk about it. The class has three objectives, to introduce students to spatial analysis as a discursive tool, to explore the inherent tension between migration and architecture, and to compare the American melting pot of the 1920s to migration today. The ingredients are part GIS, part graphic novel, part civic-engagement, and part forensic archaeology. Yes, a crazy combination that tries desperately to throw the students into hands-on spatial representing and analyzing their own constructions. Yes, I’m terrified of what might happen if the students don’t follow the tutorials on georectification or geocoding. Teaching software to undergraduates, I have come to believe, is equivalent to teaching them how to write or draw. But I don't quite know how to do it right yet.

The first GIS exercise of the course begins next week. The students will take over data generated by my 2016 Summer Hackman scholars, Lizzy Wood and Cassie Garrison. We will take 16 blocks of ethnic Philadelphia, map all the buildings and link them with their occupants listed on the contemporary census. Rather than giving the students a handful of terrific books and articles on Philadelphia’s ethnic melting pot, I have assigned them a graphic novel, the re-issue of Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, which takes place in Bronx tenement in 1930. I have never taught the graphic novel, but I have participated in readings and seminars of a graphic novel course that my colleague Kerry Sherry Wright teaches at F&M’s English Department. The second graphic novel that my student will read is Joe Sacco’s Notes from Gaza, which dramatizes Sacco’s investigation on the events of Rafa and Khan Yunis refugee camp in Palestine. The Arab Comic exhibition that just opened at the Phillips Museum adds another point of reference for the students.   

Today, we discussed the three stories of Eisner’s Contract with God. We asked a simple question. What is the architectural dimensions in the book’s narrative. Visually represented in a graphic novel, those spaces are not just implied but a parallel narrative to the words. We talked about the history of tenements from the double tenement of the 1830s, the railroad tenement of the 1850s, and the dumbbell tenement of the 1879 legislation. Through Eisner’s illustrations, we could reconstruct the entire architecture, from the stoop to the superintendent’s basement apartment. In the initial discussion of the books, the students were a little dumbfounded by my questions. Professor, what do you mean by the architectural narrative? Going through the graphic novel and comparing one illustration across the other, the students realized that the novel gave a fairly complete vantage of most of the architectural studies. The subject of the stories was kind of rough, involving rape, suicide, theft, domestic abuse and promiscuous sex. The students were able to handle it. No trigger warnings were necessary. At the end of the day, I was relieved that this graphic experiment worked out OK.

Eisner was one of many elements introduced. In just one week, the students have analyzed archival city maps at our Library Special Collections, were lectured on the architecture of the Jewish diaspora from the Temple of Solomon and the Tower of Babel to the Roman ghetto and the Russian pogroms. They learned about space, time, and form in archaeological analysis. And they also created a house database of family residence across three generations (the houses of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents) -- here they learned how difficult it is to get data even in your own family; they also learned of the great migration history that each student has brought to the class.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Greek Laborer in America: 1907 Account

The textual sources for the archaeology of Greek immigration in the US are varied and relatively scarce. I am particularly interested in evidence on the materialities of dwelling. One type of source I'm working with includes a genre of guide books produced in the US and distributed to potential immigrant in Greece, as well as newcomers. They typically contain useful contact information (including addresses of Greek establishments for each city) and useful tips. The first such almanac was published in 1904 by the New York newspaper Thermopylae (93 Washington Street). Better known are the almanacs of Serapheim Canoutas, a Greek lawyer from Trikala and published an annually updated Greek American Guide from 1908 to 1915. The book was sold at the publisher (255 West 23rd St., New York City), in Athens bookstores (M. Saliveris was the main distributor on  Stadiou St), the Greek provinces and Istanbul. 

In the second edition of the Greek-American Guide (1909), Canoutas recognizes the need to describe the laborer conditions in the American West. He solicited G. Fotopoulos, a former Greek school teacher who migrated to Ely, Nevada. The report contains factual information about housing, clothing, eating and drinking.

The lives of immigrants became the subject of multiple studies by American activists and academics. Greek immigration coincides with the rise of the Chicago School of Sociology and empirical urban anthropology. Important as these early sources of Greek-American material culture may be, they were drawn from the perspective of outsiders. G. Fotopoulos's report to Serapheim Canoutas might be one of the earliest attempts to describe a community from the inside. The Greek biases are vividly clear.

As Canoutas himself admits, the predominant focus of his guides and of Greek immigration was centered on cities, where Greeks aspired to small commercial enterprises. This has left wage laborers in mines, railroads and factories in the dark. Greek scholarship has indeed focused more closely on the entrepreneurial transition from low to middle class by the Greek American community. Thankfully, the pioneering work of Helen Papanikolas directed research to mining Utah. The archaeology of Greek America also begins in the West at the excavation of the Ludlow massacre site by the Colorado Coal War Archaeological Project. Randy McGuire, Phillip Duke, Deane Saitta, Sarah Chicone and others have documented the living conditions of Greeks in the mining town of Berwind and in the tent city of the major union strike in American history directed by Louis Tikas. The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913-1914 (Boulder, 2010), ed. Larkin, Karin and Randall H. McGuire, is a great monograph on this project. The translation of Fotopoulos report on the Greek laborer of the Western states, I hope, will be of use to the pioneering archaeological work carried out by this group.

The translation below is mine. If you are interested in a particular passage, I can refine it and answer more detailed linguistic questions. The image of the Greek immigrant above is a WPA photograph by Dorothea Lange, Migrant Agricultural Workers in California, 1939, from Library of Congress. Beyond the flare of its human subject, it illustrates the tent architecture of her ephemeral residence.

Canoutas, Seraphim G. 1909. Greek-American Guide, Ελληνο-Αμερικάνικος οδηγός, 2nd ed., New York: Phoenix. Kostis Kourelis translation. Pages noted in brackets.

During the last three years, we have studied the life of Greeks in America who live in cities. We have produced a long account in the preceding chapters of this book. We have studied their progress in commercial professions, as shop owners, or servants in hotels and laborers in factories. But we also wanted to include an account of the Greeks who work outdoors, whether in the construction of railroads or mines. So we contacted G. Fotopoulos, an ex-school teacher living in the state of Nevada, who lived and worked among the workers and we requested that he send us an account. He politely accepted our request and sent the following report. Since we received it late, we were not able to publish it in the first edition of the book [1906]. Mr. Fotopoulos gives us a picture of the situation as it was a year ago before the crisis. Hence the reader should take into consideration that the situation has greatly declined including wages. Those who had the fortune not to be laid off had their salaries significantly reduced. We should also explain to our readers outside of America that the states where Greeks work in railroads or mines are the Western states, especially California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Before the economic crisis, 10-15 thousand people worked in those states. The number today must be about half. [p. 209] Here is for us the letter describing the workers by Mr. G. Fotopoulos.

I gladly send the requested information regarding the Greek workmen in America. The history of Greek workers is long but there are only a few pages devoted to it. I hope this short description will satisfy your request. This short description is based on my experiences living with this community for a year. I send you heart-felt wishes for the success of the publication of your “Guide.” Warm congratulations for the difficult task of completing this volume that will prove to be extremely useful reading for the Greeks in the America.
--G. N. Fotopoulos
Ely, Nevada, November 22, 1907


The pickax and the shovel [η σκαπάνη και το πτύον] are the two main tools used by the Greeks to satisfy their wish of living their homeland. During the contracting projects, they work as large groups under the direction of a foreman and a Greek interpreter. [p. 210] In the repairs of railroad lines, they work in small teams of 6-10 according to sections. The other manual laborers are few in number and the type of work difficult to describe. This is typically work in factories. Daily wages range from $1 to $3. Wages are lower in the Eastern provinces and higher in the Western provinces. During my survey for the publication “The Flag” [Σημαία] at the beginning of the year, I collected the following figures for daily wage. Virginia $1-1.50, Missouri $1.50-1.75, Kansas-Wyoming-Iowa same, Colorado $1.50-1.75, Utah $1.75-2.00, Nevada $2.25-3.50. In general, work in the railroad lines is not exhausting, but work in the factories and mines is rough—frustrating and unhealthy. Unfortunately, the Greek has not comprehended the advantages of agriculture that is more profitable and easier to earn a living. It also offers great educational lessons that the immigrant could bring back to Greece and apply. The numerous Greeks that have excelled in agriculture, as they have communicated, have accomplished what they wanted. I must especially stress that Greeks should not lag behind the Bulgarians, who have involved themselves in agriculture much more than the Greeks.


A Following the needs of their work, the Greeks live in sheds, tents and rail cars. When located near cities, they live in group housing of 5-20 individuals per room. The walls of these dwellings are covered by beds stacked one on top of the other [bunk beds]. In the center of the room, there is a long table for eating. On the side, there is a stove with its inseparable kettle and a pot for boiling coffee. [p. 211] Coffee is an invaluable beverage that gives flavor to breakfast, consisting of a slice of bread. A cook rotates among the workmen daily, weekly, or monthly and prepares the meals. The typical course for Greeks is meat. Variety is rare. At a visible place in the room, there are icons and pictures of beloved persons, for the most part photographsplace in the room, there are icons and pictures of beloved persons, for the most part photographs.


Whatever book with a tantalizing title appears on a newspaper ad is gladly purchased for each worker’s idiosyncrasy. Stories like “Thje Brigands,” [Ληστών], “Chaido,” [Χαιδώ] “A Thousand and One Nights” [Χαλιμά] are the soft readings from which the laborers derive the fantastical, and the absurd, that is all dangerous and useless. Few laborers read history or any beneficial texts. Few subscribe to newspapers. Their news and interpretations are discussed with extreme carelessness. We believe it is essential to recommend the reading of newspapers or works published in Athens by the Society of Useful Books, which are enjoyable, educational and written in simple language. Religious books and illustrated books are entirely nonexistent. Not


The principles of health are unknown. The bed covers are never aired in the sun after getting gup. There is a silly notion that the bed covers will stay warmer if they are left on the bed until nighttime. Sometimes the rooms have curtains but they are not drawn to let any vital air into the room. This habit is a main cause of tuberculosis among most of our compatriots. [p. 212] Baths gratify Greeks. Among the 500 and over laborers at McGill, Nevada, almost no one visited the Company baths. They ignore the positive effects of bathing that it revives as much as it cleans the body. They also neglect the negative effects of humidity on the body. They prefer hot and humid air rather than cold and dry air, which is more beneficial to health. I once encountered a most depressing sight. I found Greeks sleeping inside a man-made cave, two feet deep and two feet tall, with an earthen roof. The only opening was a single low door. The walls were covered in mold. Most of the Greeks wear 2-3 undershirts at work because they are afraid of the cold. But in their first movements they get drenched in sweat and with the frigid cold they develop pneumonia, congestion and coughs that ultimately lead to tuberculosis. The diet of meat and large quantities of coffee is unhealthy. In the coffee, moreover, they add some form of mead or molasses after the coffee has boiled with sugar, which makes it cheaper. This diet combined with daily toil of outdoor work contributes to sickness.


Most of the workers, like many Greeks, suffer from venereal diseases. Our young people waste their earnings and their health to the terrible goddess Venus and become miserable. We think it is essential to visit a doctor immediately after the appearance of symptoms and not trust the advice given by colleagues who suffer from the same disease. The second most common disease is rheumatism caused by humid conditions. Other diseases are rare. We must also report that the company doctors devote no time to the workers.


The earnings of the workers are satisfactory, especially in the Western states. However, the lack of control on the expenses stresses the balance of the budget, and most find themselves without money. The petty pride so natural to Greeks and the petty daily expenses consume all the capital earned in the year. Card playing is also a problem (Greeks spent $15,000 in the gambling houses of Ely, Nevada). Moving to a new place in pursuit of a better job is also expensive (the railroads take a serious fee when there is a change of residence). Petty little shops where Greeks waste their free time also waste savings. These are the main reasons contributing to a chronic condition of poverty.


Hard work and the lack of family are the two forces that contribute to ethical behavior. The lack of places to carry out religious duties and the seasonal festivals, contributes to ethical behavior. Living anonymously among people and the freedom to say whatever comes to one’s mind are also detrimental. These conditions have destroyed the good character of the Greeks. They have hardened his sentiment, made him coldhearted, indifferent and arrogant. They have made him forget his home country, his religion, his society and his humanism. The filth, rubble, irony and verbal abuse that take place in the labor settlements have acted negatively on the character of the Greeks. When those Greeks return back home, we might note, that while acquiring gold, they also acquired arrogance and many other character defects.


Nobody could criticize the worker’s clothes. But the lack of non-working clothing to be used after work is noticeable among the Greeks. A minimal investment of $10-20 for presentable clothing would elevate both self-respect and respect of Greeks among others. [p. 214] It is a shame for Greeks to be walking around the streets with filthy and torn clothes.


Greek history is known to all ethnicities in the U.S. They know of Ancient Greece as the origins of western civilization. Good behavior highlights the levels of civilization of each ethnic group. Modern Greeks, unfortunately, lack in good behavior. When we try to show off the customs of our country, we become ridiculous and are considered primitive. The customs of our country are very different from the customs here. Our songs sound to others like shrieking laments, our dances look like movements of primitive peoples, our drums and flutes solicit laughter. Our manner of speaking quickly, loudly and moving our hands vigorously seem wild and very undesirable to the ears of others. Our agitation, our eruptions and our stubbornness make others angry. Our manner of loitering on the sidewalks to talk is both illegal and annoying. Others consider us wild, beggarly (degos) and dirty. These are our behaviors. But we must remember the dignity associated with our name as Hellenes. Good judgment, willingness and good attitude are not impossible things.


Greeks are the most desired ethnicity for all jobs. Their diligence, patience, orderliness, willingness, devotion, self-discipline, control over alcoholic consumption, patience over abuse and respect for superiors have earned Greeks the reputation of most desirable laborer than other ethnicities that seem lazy, drunk, disorderly and disheveled. This distinction, however, has earned the hatred of all other groups. [p. 215] If the Greek did not have the above-mentioned faults, he would command greater respect and appreciation among the popular opinion.


With all the offerings towards the ideals of Hellenism, Nation and Religion, we dare say that the religious and national sentiments is not high. The religious sentiments are compromised by an intense fear of God or by the hope of God providing some material gains. Thanks to these, there is no high levels of religiosity. The national sentiment is in the same degree. We can divide Greeks in three clear categories with respect to the national sentiment. There are the cultivated and loyal subjects who regularly contribute to the nation and inspire others. There are the half-educated and stingy that give only after emotional pressure and shaming. And, finally, there are those who hate their country, who not only give nothing back but they curse the land that created them, they disrupt any communication with the homeland and discourage those that do.


It is daring to note our serious opinion about this. Nine tenths of the unmarried workers who continue to work on daily wages, spend their money in the activities mentioned above that live the worker without savings. And they will never be able to return to Greece. The contrast between the plethora of pleasures in America and the thrifty life-style of Greece, muddle the filter of returning home. None of the men marry American women. They understand the cultural differences and the problems of living with liberated wives.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States