Neighborhood as Palimpsest: An Examination of Chicago's Back of the Yards Neighborhood Through Urban Historical Geography

byMolly Myers

Place is essentially about people and how people make meaning of their locations. This unit uses a local history approach to examining the geographical concept of sense of place. Using census records, foreign language newspapers, housing reports, settlement house papers, and other primary sources from 1900-1920, students will examine the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago in order to identify how different groups of migrants and immigrants encountered one another and shaped the built environment around them. The Back of the Yards neighborhood located adjacent to the Union Stockyards was the entry point for many ethnic groups seeking employment in Chicago's industrial landscape. The years between 1900 and 1920 represent the high point of immigration from Europe and migration of African Americans from the South. Chicago can serve as an excellent case study about how industrialization, ethnicity, race, and space connect.

This unit uses strategies that align with the Common Core reading and writing standards as well as incorporate the historical/geographic thinking strategies that helps students make meaning on their own. The unit walks teachers through how to create this kind of unit for their own cities and neighborhoods that can be used for Human Geography, U.S. History, Sociology, and possibly English courses that are using Upton Sinclair's The Jungle as a primary text.

(Recommended for United States History, Grades 8-12; Sociology and Chicago History, Grades 9-12)

Comments (1)

    sydney hunt coffin (Edison/Fareira High School, philadelphia, pa)
    Subject taught: english, Grade: hs
    I adore how the author/Molly Myers has articulated the place with language as well as through concrete activities for her students. The introduction has been a fabulous read and a model for me to approach introducing my own ideas to my students and other teachers. While I am in Philadelphia, so Back of the Yards carries less relevance for me directly, the general concepts around understanding the genuine specificity of her area corresponds closely with my own school neighborhood in Hunting Park. How the layers do build up quickly! How are there other stories which can inform our present-day existence and knowledge of the place we call home? Molly finds answers by digging deep into the even deeper questions that drive us all.

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