Brooklyn Underground: Flatbush

19th century New York City, vulnerable and overcrowded, was the target of the cholera epidemic. To get an idea of how the unsanitary the city was at that time one must know that people became sick with cholera after coming into contact with feces. People fled the city in fear and panic of the disease. In an overpopulated city with a poor sanitation system it was no surprise that NYC had already been the center of another epidemic in the late 18th century, yellow fever. Brooklyn did not become apart of NYC until 1898. During these deathly events, it had been protected by natural barriers and a safe distance from the run down city.

Maps and disease were the main topics of the last visit my class paid to the BHS. All that information was provided by the librarians Julie and Robin. Though not before our introduction to various maps of different times and systems of New York. Caroline another librarian of the BHS provided us with plenty of information on each map. We started off with a map easily recognized by anyone who has lived in New York City as long as we have, the 2011 MTA subway map. This is the map we started with because it helped us understand the basic questions and answers we could ask and find in a map once we moved on the the other maps. Some maps we looked at were: 1770s nautical map of the NYC water ways, 1740s Dutch map with with a cartouche; a detailed drawing, and a 1940s Brooklyn data map of rents in different areas. Every map had was made for different reasons but as every visit I’ve paid, they show the changes the city goes through.

Change is always shown but on this visit I tried to see more than that. I focused on “why was this map made this way”. Since maps weren’t ordinarily owned by everyone or available to everyone, they were mostly owned by the upper class or people with political power.  What I found most interesting was that some maps had pictures that were not necessarily precise, like pictures of animals they thought were found in a certain area. That, extra detail, color, fancy fonts and they weren’t even updated. It was like a scam, something NYC tourists would buy these days.


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