Process I

When I began I had very little sense of how to go about investigating my topic. I had a few leads concerning references to shantytowns in West Philadelphia in or around the turn of the century, but that was it.

A few key visits to local archives turned out to be fruitful, but in ways that truly surprised me. I went to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania knowing that they held a copy of the M. Laffitte Vieira book that I wanted to look at. While I was there I also searched their archives for other shantytown references that seemed promising. I tried using words such as "immigrants," "slums," and "gypsies" which initially turned up material irrelevant to my investigation. However there was one hit that looked intriguing, which were listed as voter fraud photographs from the old newspaper, "Philadelphia Record."

The photographs proved to be the richest documentation that I found. A series of photographs had been taken during an investigative report about claims of voter registration fraud. The photographs were in a file that dated them from being taken between 1938 and 1940, and the notes on the back described the location as 4th & Oregon.

Though it makes perfect sense that a major Philadelphia newspaper would have covered a story about voter registration fraud, it never dawned on me to try and back into evidence of shantytowns this way. By discovering such a rich resource in a logical (but unexpexted) place, it has helped to remind me that we must sometimes step back from topic in order to get closer to it.

project background process part II