Christy Pottroff

Pottroff Wins Digital Humanities Award

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.

PhD Candidate Christy Pottroff is Awarded Prestigious Fellowship

Christy Pottroff, a PhD candidate in American literature has been awarded a Predoctoral Lapidus–OIEAHC Fellowship in Early American and Transatlantic Print Culture. The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture awards up to eight predoctoral fellowships annually throughout the US and abroad. The small but very competitive and prestigious fellowship is for Pottroff's work on her dissertation “The Mail Gaze: Early American Women’s Literature, Letters, and the Post Office, 1790-1865,” which investigates the fascinating and overlooked influence of the USPS on women’s participation in early national literature and politics. Pottroff writes:

For women writers, a letter sent by mail meant direct access to the public sphere of national politics. I argue that writers like Anne Royall, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet Jacobs use letters and references to the postal system in their literature to explore the crucial question: how will we be united? During this period of nation building, the postal map evolved from a sparse constellation of drop-points to an intricate web of private and affordable communication. Unlike other contemporary institutions, the United States Post Office never barred participation based on gender or race. The postal service connected all people—slaves, slave owners, mothers, children, soldiers, and the elite—in a private network of exchange under the auspices of the national government. The postal system enabled women to write their way into the public sphere of politics and literature.

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture supports research on the history and cultures of North America from circa 1450 to 1820 and includes related developments in Africa, the British Isles, the Caribbean, Europe, and Latin America. They offer fellowships, support publications, and coordinate collaboration among junior and senior academics. It's housed at the University of William and Mary and is supported, in part, from NEH and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Congratulations, Christy!