Why a blog on Charles Booth and social mapping?

After over 10 years teaching ‘urban transformations’, ‘cities and communities’, ‘adaptable cities’ and ‘spatial justice’ (amongst other subjects) on the MSc Advanced Architectural Studies at UCL and nearly 20 years’ worth of fascination (some might say obsession) with social maps in general and Charles Booth in particular, I decided to start this blog to post my less fully-developed academic theories on the topic until they have a place in a more formal publication.

I believe I’m not along in having this interest in maps – although my approach is different from that of many colleagues for whom the map is in some ways the end product of a process of synthesising and analysing data to result in a graphic form. My colleagues at UCL CASA are brilliant at that sort of work – see http://mappinglondon.co.uk/. It differs again in its spatial analytic approach from the inestimable Professor Danny Dorling, whose mapping and analysis of social inequalities is a must-read. Whilst I’m also in the business of mapping data, my own approach involves using the map as a starting point to detect apparent patterns and then dip back into the statistics, having formed some hypotheses about underlying relationships between factors (what my esteemed senior colleague Bill H. has called ‘eyeballing the data’). But this isn’t purely a statistical exercise. I am well aware that not only are maps not the objective artefacts as can so easily be supposed, but also that it is imperative to get under the skin of the map to get a sense of the less easily quantifiable aspects of the subject in hand.

For example, the map of Jewish East London (see image below) – published in a book called ‘The Jew in London’ in 1900 as a response the grave concerns at the time at the massive influx of refugee Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe – is a perfect example of a map with a powerful message: note the streets where Jewish inhabitants were in a majority are increasingly dark as the proportions near 100%. It is also an example of the need to get underneath the statistics: first, to find out how, if this was, as was thought at the time, a ‘ghetto’, these and many immigrant groups who preceded and followed, managed to get out of the seemingly segregated social structure of the district. If you’re interested, my propositions on how the East End served as a sort of immigrant processing machine are laid out in the many academic articles I’ve written on the subject. The point to be made here, is how important it is to not only use scientific analysis of spatial structure – space syntax methods are at the heart of my methods – but also to get to grips with the primary sources that enrich the data with reality of living in such a place, but also help to validate the assumptions drawn from the statistical analysis.

Image credits: Original map of JEWISH EAST LONDON from Russell & Lewis (1900) ‘The Jew in London’. Image © Museum of London, with permission


o Book chapter on mapping 19th century London Vaughan, L. (2008) ‘Mapping the East End Labyrinth’ in Jack the Ripper and the East End with an introduction by Peter Ackroyd (Ed, Werner, A.). London: Chatto and Windus, 218-237.

o Clip from BBC4 TV series

o Full text of Russell and Lewis (1900) “The Jew in London. A study of racial character and present-day conditions”

Author: (sub)urbanite

Professor of Urban Form and Society and Director of the Space Syntax Lab, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Online in a personal capacity.

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