Christy Pottroff, a Ph.D. Candidate in English, has been awarded the NYCDH Graduate Student Digital Project Award for her digital mapping project, The U.S. Goes Postal: Mapping Union and War in the Antebellum Era. The NYC Digital Humanities Group awards three prizes to graduate students from the New York City area who are pursuing DH projects.
Pottroff’s digital map tracks the growth of post offices and postal routes in the United States from 1790 to 1865 using the platform Neatline. Postal growth during this period is remarkable: in 1790 there were 75 post offices in the country; by 1865 there were 28,882. Pottroff’s project offers an important perspective on the postal system’s relationship to colonization in the early national period. Her datasets show the postal service to be a tool of colonization: post offices and routes crept into territory outside of the United States, making it easier for states like Maine, Florida, and Missouri to be integrated into the national body. In mapping the uneven and contentious national border, her project will eventually show how frontier post offices were fundamental to the project of manifest destiny.
Pottroff’s digital project benefits from the postal service’s unflagging dedication to paperwork. The National Archives alone houses 662 boxes of postal route ledgers for each mail route in the country. What had been a staggering amount of bureaucratic minutiae is now—thanks to the sophistication of digital mapping programs—raw data for a dynamic project that will be accessible to a broad audience.
Pottroff encourages graduate students and faculty to engage with the generous and dynamic community of digital humanities scholars in New York City. Pottroff writes “I have been able to acquire the necessary technical skills for this project thanks to workshops and resources at Fordham. Elizabeth Cornell (English PhD; Fordham IT) and others have offered guidance and support throughout the past year.” Clearly, there is a thriving community of digital humanities scholars at Fordham and in NYC.