Project Overview

Under the leadership of philanthropist Susan Wharton, Philadelphia’s College Settlement Association invited Du Bois, a recent Harvard Ph.D. graduate, to conduct a survey of Blacks living in the 7th Ward. The University of Pennsylvania agreed to give Du Bois the title of “assistant in sociology,” but Du Bois received little else from Penn. The part of downtown Philadelphia that Du Bois studied now has some of the most expensive real estate in the region, including the Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square West neighborhoods. But at the turn of the century, it was home to more Blacks of all classes than any other part of Philadelphia.

Du Bois lived in Philadelphia for a year during which he went door-to-door, interviewing each of the several thousand Black households. He classified each of them by social class according to his own judgment and used colors to represent each group on a map of the seventh ward.

Du Bois’s final 500-page report addressed the history of blacks in Philadelphia, employment, housing, churches, crime, and family composition. It included a mix of harsh Victorian judgments on lower class blacks and insightful comments about racism and discrimination. Du Bois’s methods were well ahead of his time, combining ethnography, survey methods, mapping, and statistical analysis.


Project Data Collection

The survey data Du Bois collected himself no longer exist, so household-level data from the 1900 U.S. Census has been collected, instead. The 1900 U.S. Census includes the following variables about each individual in each household:

  • First and last name
  • Relationship to head of household
  • Age and place of birth
  • Place of birth for parents
  • Occupation
  • Able to read and write
  • Able to speak English

These data were transferred from microfilm reels at the Van Pelt Library and scanned records available at to computer spreadsheets. We will also collect articles from Philadelphia’s daily and African American newspapers, historical photographs, health records, crime data, property insurance records, and business directories.


Scholarly Research

The data we collect will be mapped and analyzed using GIS and spatial statistical methods and used as the basis for new academic research addressing the following research questions:

  • How did DuBois’s research methods reflect and influence developments in the social sciences and social survey movement?
  • What was the basis for his class grades?
  • What was the nature of residential segregation in 1896 by race, ethnicity, and migration status?
  • What happened to the Black residents and Black institutions of the 7th Ward during the 20th Century?
  • How did housing conditions in Philadelphia compare with housing conditions in New York and other cities?


Website and Teaching Materials

In addition to producing new scholarship, this project aims to increase the number of high school and college students who read The Philadelphia Negro and to make DuBois’s survey results more accessible to them. The data collected through this project will be made available on a website that features interactive GIS maps, primary sources, and suggested assignments. High school students in Philadelphia public schools are required to take an African American history course before graduating, so we are eager to provide them with curriculum materials, but we also expect that this project will have relevance to students outside Philadelphia.


Community Outreach

Through our initial research, we have met many community residents who share our commitment to honoring W.E.B. Du Bois and telling the story of the Old Seventh Ward. With the support and input of community residents and representatives of the neighborhood associations near the Old Seventh Ward, we successfully applied for a mural of W.E.B. Du Bois at 6th and Rodman Streets, near where he lived while in Philadelphia. We are also planning to organize narrated tours of the Seventh Ward. Eventually, we hope to develop an interactive tour guide in the form of a PDA that uses GPS and wireless technology to put our GIS database in the hands of people walking through the Seventh Ward. We also plan to participate in community events with the Department of Records and Historical Society of Pennsylvania where residents will be invited to scan and contribute their own historical photographs and records to a number of different digital history projects.


Possible Future Extensions

Our long-term dreams for this project include hosting a summer institute for high school teachers and students to learn about social science and history research methods as they relate to The Philadelphia Negro. We are seeking funding to develop a vitual 3-D model of the Seventh Ward that would allow visitors to view inside buildings. We also hope to develop a MySpace or FaceBook-like website for students to develop fictional profiles and social networks based on primary sources about the people who lived in the Seventh Ward in 1900.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We are grateful to the following organizations for their support.

Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
will produce mural of W.E.B. Du Bois in Summer 2007
View Proposal (pdf)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Research and Education Fund
Funding to collect historical health data and produce scholarship relating to health disparities
Jan - August 2007
View Proposal (pdf)

National Endowment for Humanities
Curriculum Education Grant for Teaching and Learning Resources and Curriculum Development
Funding to develop online GIS application for high school and college students
June 1, 2006 - May 30, 2008
View Proposal (pdf)

University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation
Pilot funding to assist with collection of 1900 U.S. Census data and support scholarly applications of GIS data
February 1, 2005 - August 30, 2006
View Proposal (pdf)

John B. Hurford Humanities Internship Program, Haverford College
Funding for summer intern
Summer 2006
View Proposal (pdf)

Penn Institute for Urban Research
Research assistance through participation in Undergraduate Urban Research Course,
Spring 2004

University of Pennsylvania Press
Discount on copies of The Philadelphia Negro for project team members and students at Masterman High School and Eastern Camden County Regional High School