Reading a City: How Histories of Maps Tell Us the Socioeconomic, Architectural, Cultural, and Racial Stories of a City in its Present


Professor K. Ian Grandison, UVA Department of English/Afro-American Studies/African Studies.  Professor Grandison is especially interested in the intersection of race, space, and culture – particularly with regard to the landscape architectural histories of African American neighborhoods and campuses.  He studies political and social significance of landscape architecture in its role of shaping neighborhoods and communities.  As a part of the English Department at UVA, Professor Grandison has taught courses such as “Race, Space, and Culture (ENCR 9500, Fall 2010/2012),” “Race in American Places (ENCR 4500, Spring 2011/2012),” and “Reading the Black College Campus (ENAM 3500, Fall 2011/2013)” as well as others of related interest. 


Ideally, this session would take form in the course of two meetings: a Tuesday lecture and a Thursday field experience session.  Through specific readings suggested by Professor Grandison, the Transduction team would gain a base of understanding about the general role of racial and socioeconomic factors in the development of cities broadly in America and elsewhere. This general knowledge will be specified and focused during the Tuesday session, to apply to the issue of race in the development of Charlottesville’s own urban planning history, including past and on-going examples of gentrification as seen in the study of maps of Charlottesville over the years.  The Tuesday lecture, then, would serve to enhance and broaden our specific knowledge about this history seen through maps as records of racial tensions and “battles” won or lost from the points of view of certain neighborhoods and communities.  What actors play what kinds of roles in the development of cities?  Why do communities get displaced, and how are these displacements achieved, by whom, against whom?


We will seek to answer some of these questions for our own city of Charlottesville through the field experience session on Thursday, for which we will meet at or near the downtown mall in order to visually and physically experience the evidence of the maps studied on Tuesday.  Professor Grandison will walk us through the specific sites of interest in terms of the “markers” of racial history in the development of Charlottesville’s beloved downtown mall, and perhaps even provide us with some of his insights and informed opinions of the state of our upcoming “midtown,” currently under construction near the Amtrak Station.  Alternatively, this session could also be directed to focus on the UVA Grounds, according to Professor Grandison’s suggestions and the interests of the Transduction team.  Overall, the team should come out of this two-part session with an increased understanding of the multi-faceted nature of urban development, with a specific and pertinent focus on Charlottesville, enriched by the team members’ own particular insights and personal connections to these locations.



This session would be a relevant and beneficial addition to our schedule of studies as a multidisciplinary lecture/field experience in the study of socioeconomic and racial histories seen through physical, political, topographic maps.  Professor Grandison’s particular expertise seeks the study of history through topography – a unique combination of signals and interactive media for the study of a multi-faceted area of research. It presents an interesting way in which communities, societies, city structures can be viewed with more intentional and nuanced methods of perception, and will hopefully serve as a jumping-off point from which to better understand the role of race and socioeconomic factors in urban planning, city politics, and topographic history.


  • “Architecture’s Other: Radicalizing the Vernacular,” Appendix 4 (1999): 98-119.
  • “Beyond the Buildings: Landscape as Cultural History in Constructing the Historical Significance of Place,” Proceedings of Preservation of What, for Whom: A Critical Look at Historical Significance, ed. Michael A. Tomlan, National Council for Preservation Education (1999): 159-168.
  • “Landscapes of Terror: A Reading of Tuskegee’s Historic Campus, 1881-1915,” in The Geography of Identity, ed. Patricia Yaeger, Ratio Vol. 5, University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan Press (1996): 334-367.
  • “Negotiated Space: The Black College Campus as Cultural Record of Postbellum America” American Quarterly 51.3 (1999): 529-579.
  • Landscapes from the Bottoms: The Black College Campus as Cultural History by K. Ian Grandison

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Proposed by Madison Jaehee Lee.