At Worlds Revealed, the Library of Congress’s map blog, Tim St. Onge looks at, and provides the background on, a series of six maps prepared by Frederick E. Pierce for a report on living conditions in New York’s tenement housing in 1895, including a stunningly bizarre map of ethnic groups living in the city.
Pierce’s map of nationalities, however, is a more memorable, if confounding, centerpiece. Aiming to convey diversity among immigrant communities in New York, the map depicts the proportion of major “nationalities” in each sanitary district of the city. The result is a dizzying array of zigzag stripes and scattered points. As Pierce writes in his explanatory notes accompanying the Harper’s Weekly publication, the original map was produced in color and adapted to black and white for publication, but the reproduction “is almost as effective and quite as illustrative as the original.” Despite Pierce’s confidence, perhaps the average reader could be forgiven if they find the map to be more difficult to parse. In fact, the map seems to resemble more closely the dazzle camouflage, a design aimed at confusing the observer, used on British and American warships in the first half of the twentieth century.