Mapping Working-Class Activism – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Mapping Working-Class Activism

With the help of digital mapping tools, a research collaboration between a professor and an HWS technologist reveals how political activism spread across Reconstruction-era St. Louis, Mo.

In 2018, Associate Professor of American Studies Beth Belanger published “‘A Perfect Nuisance’: Working-Class Women and Neighborhood Development in Civil War St. Louis,” which grew out of her archival research with Rob Beutner, a technologist in the HWS IT Services office.

With Beutner’s help, Belanger used maps, historical data and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology to explore how working-class women became central players in the city’s neighborhood-based political conflicts during the Civil War.

Now, in a new article based on that collaboration and published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History’s winter 2021 issue, Belanger explores a similar proliferation of ideas from the city’s Black working-class women during Reconstruction.

“Blending the tools of micro-history with historical [GIS] permits us to chart the social networks and everyday journeys of Black working-class women activists and the middle-class men with whom they came into contact in Reconstruction St. Louis,” Belanger explains in the abstract to the article, “Mapping Working-Class Activism in Reconstruction St. Louis.”

Belanger’s archival scholarship is situated at the intersection of women’s history, urban studies and historical geography. Part digital history, part traditional scholarship, her work uses geospatial technologies to map and visualize the presence of women in the urban landscape.

The recent article explains how the “[s]ocial and spatial ties shaped the activism of St. Louis’ working-class women; mapping these ties reveals the links between everyday acts of resistance and organized efforts of African Americans to carve out a space for themselves in the restructuring city and make visible a collective activism that crossed class and racial boundaries.”

The collaboration is “illustrative of the type of interdisciplinary thinking that happens at a place like HWS,” Belanger says. “What began as simple archival research morphed into two historical GIS projects, two published articles (with a third article under review), and multiple classroom collaborations in AMST 201 and AMST 270 that allowed students to practice the skills of authentic scholarly research. My scholarship and teaching have been undoubtedly enriched by [Rob’s] skills, expertise, and knowledge.”

Belanger, who joined the HWS faculty in 2013, holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from Brown University and B.A. from Kenyon College. She is currently the director for the People’s History of Geneva, a community history project. The mission of this project is to collect, document and share the experiences of Genevans through their stories and conversations. Specifically, it seeks to bring the voices of traditionally underrepresented community members to the forefront. The project is a collaboration between the Geneva Historical Society, the Geneva City Schools and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

The photo above features Associate Professor of American Studies Beth Belanger during office hours talking with Gabriela Martinez ‘22.