Date: March 7, 2022 (Season 4, Episode 7: 59 min. & 28 sec. long). For the entire show notes and additional resources for this episode Click here. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click Here. This episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood and Chelsey Zamir, with help (sound engineering and post-production editing) from Jason Powers from the Utah State Library Recording Studio.
This episode is an interview with Dr. Brandon Plewe, BYU geographer and cartographer, with SYP host Brad Westwood. It involves a discussion about Plewe’s 2022 Utah Historical Quarterly article entitled “Placing Immigrants in Salt Lake City, 1900,” Utah Historical Quarterly, (Winter, 2022: Vol. 90, No. 1).
Why use geography and cartography to tell this story? Plewe describes that geography, particularly spatial data or mapping of locations, offer researchers entirely different ways of seeing and thinking about history. In this case, Plewe and his BYU students mapped the exact addresses of those picked up in 1900 Census data. In mapping these addresses, they discovered a pattern of immigration across downtown SLC. In order to discover the larger picture that this data would tell, they examined the distribution of immigrants, the different countries they emigrated from, and where exactly in SLC they settled.
This geographical data renders an otherwise undetected picture that shows Mormons were seen through a racial lens. This research fits into that which was pioneered by Dr. Paul Reeve – Mormons, at this time, were seen as different from other Americans. The Mormon Church was successful in bringing many immigrants from Great Britain, Western Europe and Scandinavia, and assimilating them into Utah’s existing dominant culture. Less effective were their attempts to assimilate immigrants from Italy, Spain, Ireland, Poland, etc., into Utah society. The latter group of immigrants were considered “less white,” and Mormons were viewed by many Americans as “less American.” Obsessed with their national image, the members of the Mormon Church aspired to be seen as equally American and concurrently predominantly white. Unknowingly or at times knowingly, SLC society segregated certain “less white” groups to specific areas, so as to differentiate themselves from these communities.
Plewe concludes in this discussion that religion, race, economics, and the way each population of immigrants had different influences on SLC. English, German, and Scandinavian immigrants primarily migrated for religious purposes and were actively assimilated into the culture and, therefore, spatially distributed. Whereas, non-English speaking and Irish immigrants emigrated not for religious purposes, but for economic and labor reasons and for cheaper housing.
Bio: Dr. Brandon S. Plewe, an associate professor of geography at BYU (Provo), has been teaching there since 1997. Plewe is a committed trail preservationist and his research focuses on mapmaking and map uses related to Mormonism and the American West. To experience Plewe’s most recent mapping ideas go to #30DayMapChallenge on his Twitter feed.
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