Mapping Commonplaces – Intro to A Story About Shaw


My name is Cory Myrtil and as part of my freshman year at American University I took my College Writing Seminar on “Mapping Complexity: Embodied Subjectivity, Multi-positionality, and the Becoming of the Citizen-Rhetor.” Through this class I was given the opportunity to talk about the rhetoric of Washington DC using the knowledge of books such as David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric the experience of writing Digital Archives and reading analyses to expand my understanding why Washington is going through the change, what it means to the people that live there and where this once “Chocolate City” is headed.

As part of this class, all students were asked to pick a location in the D.C area, I chose 5th & O Intersection of the Shaw area and through my research learned about so many different stories and people that view the same place so differently.

Area Scale of Shaw

With all that I had acquired through my CLS research for the project, I created three multimodal, a Tumblr page , an Instagram Page and a Youtube video titled, “Shaw Confessionals” which I have explained further explain in my project reflection. I hope whoever reads this is able to understand and add to this conversation about the story of Shaw and as the years go on create a community where we can add to this story and see the evolution take place.

Thank you,

Cory M.


Mapping Commonplaces: A Story About Shaw – The Project


Throughout this semester I researched 5th & O Street intersection in the Howard/Shaw area. The reason why I had chosen Shaw was because in his book S Street Rising Ruben Castaneda had described this street intersection as a “combat zone” (105) one that was filled off strawberries, cocaine, and gang affiliated murders. I thought I would be living on the edge investigating and exploring a different side of Washington D.C. that I had not yet seen before since I was sheltered in the bubble of 4400 Massachusetts Avenue. It had been said that the district was known for being “Chocolate City” but instead, all I saw was million dollar mansions, white families walking their dog through my university’s campus. So, the second I heard that my semester long College Writing Seminar Assignment would involving the rhetoric or the Shaw Area I was excited.

However, my assumptions were quickly proven as false the second I stepped out the Shaw-Howard University Metro Station. As I have written in my Digital Archives instead of an area full of black, latino people I saw million dollar homes, overpriced mom and pop shops and isolated way at the end of 5th Street, the Second Northwest Cooperative housing complex the very few black families remained. To state that I was appalled and dare I say a bit of culture shock is an understatement. The community that was once there had been completed whitewashed over. After my first visit to Shaw, I couldn’t help but write about the complete disconnect between the two groups that now occupied the space. In my Essay 1 BED DigiDoc Textual Analysis, I brought up the fact that what can be explained as gentrification is seen as either a positive or negative based on the group of people you are speaking to. The individuals of the caucasian group might see it as “preserving historical land” improving the overall metropolitan era while the black group who were the natives of such areas as Shaw might see it as another instance where their history is being overlooked and not deemed important.

With the knowledge that I had acquired throughout the class discussion on the book “City of Rhetoric” I was able to expand my rhetorical understanding to understand better understand all sides of the conversation when exploring my CLS. My main goal throughout this project was to get all the perspective that I could gather concerning what Shaw meant to its residents, from the newcomers to the natives, the blacks, white and in between. I will admit that I am a bit bias when it comes to the “truth” that I had sided with more. Being that I identified with the black community, I understood their frustration when it came to the fact that they were essentially being forced to leave their community and the neighborhood that they had lived in for years. However, in the same token, I understood the oblivion that came from many of the new white young families and professionals that currently resided in Shaw being that they were seeing such “change” through a privileged lens.

After the practice that I had acquired with the assigned reading analyses throughout the semester I felt prepared with the Mapping Commonplace Project that was assigned. Though at first, I had difficulty figuring out what exactly to do when it came to what my multimodal components for this assignment I knew that I wanted it to be something that I could add on even after this class was over. Something that had definitely inspired me from our class discussions with Professor Hoskins was his colleague’s website mapping the different places in the Washington DC area; almost like an interactive art gallery.

I wanted my multimodal components to be like art museums where the audience can form the stories themselves with the pictures, videos, and music presented. I created a Tumblr page with a playlist including D.C. native artists like Marvin Gaye, Wale, Oddisee, Tarnica Junes among other artists such as  Kendrick Lamar, Otis Redding. I named the Tumblr Page “A Story About Shaw” (ASBS)  which presented videos and pictures and quotes that framed the evolution of Shaw from drug war zone in the 20th to early 21st century to this newly renovated, multimillion-dollar, white, quiet suburb-esque area. The Tumblr page was a compilation of both photos and videos that I had taken myself during my trips to Shaw as well as Real Estate listing screenshotted to how the prices of homes had gone up. I recorded a part of the ASBS Tumblr I attached a recording that I posted on YouTube and titled “ Shaw Confessionals.” The 2-minute voice memo is part of a conversation that I had with a Shaw native and Howard University rising sophomore who recounts how the change has impacted her community “for the worse”  I felt that hearing from a person who has experienced the change that Shaw has gone through. Since all my multimodal components connect I decided to put the recording as part of the Tumblr playlist.

To add onto the ASBS Tumblr page I created an Instagram Page  using the captions of each video and picture to tell a story of what was going on through my perspective. I used all the conversations that I had both published on social media or not to create a conversation through pictures on the Instagram time and my place is as stated before is to go back as years go by to add on to these components and truly show the evolution and for everyone as a group to comment and decide for themselves whether this renovation is better or worse and why.

Essay 1 BED DigiDoc Textual Analysis: Historical Preservation or Control?


Shaw Area (5th & O St)  – Gentrification

Street sign for 5th & O intersection in Shaw.

In his Beyond a Boundary: Washington’s Historic Districts and Their Racial Contents, Cameron Logan complicates the notion that we have on privileging a group with the ability to preserve and revitalize areas that they deem fit, and as a result, the negative impacts it has on the story of the opposing side. Cameron does this by both arguing and presenting the impact of the 1978 act for preservation control of the historic streets of Washington D.C. In this article, Logan tries to explain the reasons for why there was opposition in the African American community specifically when it came to the expansion of “historic areas” (57). Logan presents the view of the Dupont Circle Conservancy, a predominately white organization on their practices and efforts to not gentrify or “colonize” (64) the areas such as Shaw Area where 5th & O St lie but “enhance community control” (64) of what they deemed as historic assets of the D.C. experience. Logan presents the idea of a non-equal playing field when it came to the opposing preservation communities; Dupont Circle Conservancy  (predominately White) and 14th and U Street Coalition (predominately Black) that because of race and the political influence (or lack thereof) certain groups have the power to control what happens to the neighborhood, the people and the history

House sign showing appreciation to Shaw.

Dr. Cameron Logan’s background as Director of Heritage of Conservation in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, gives him the authority to complicate this narrative and idea of the history of a space and impact of erasing such thing. Cameron is a historian in Urban and Architectural where he focuses mainly on the how heritage conservation shapes cities. Focusing mainly Washington D.C. and the evolution of certain areas such as Shaw. His interest are mostly in places that are deliberately chosen to be kept in their current state (or completely transformed) and in the process why and who decides such changes. Most of Cameron’s research involve the ways in which regimes of cultural value of an area or place can inform or delimit property value. Cameron also touches base on how the social politics influences whether or not a place will be protected. He has personal connection with the D.C. area being that he got his PhD from George Washington University, as a result,  he has been given the ability  a lot of areas evolve from what it once was to what it is now and what it can be in the future.

Given his authority, Logan works through the logos lens. Logan presents and defends his argument to the audience (which we will discuss in the next paragraph) in a logical manner through the use of evidence to back up his claim. It is not a persuasive piece more so an informative one. Through visuals, such as the map on page 58 and an old 1960s pamphlet on  page 59 Logan tells a story of the evolution of D.C. mostly African American areas such as Shaw through the perspectives of two opposing groups. Through logos Cameron intends for this piece inform the reader about the “history”and “historical significance” of the Shaw area. These keywords together are used approximately 50 times throughout the 14 page piece. As a result, this proves to be a major hint for the purpose of this piece. Cameron looks into the theory of what one group might see as gentrifying but the other sees as enhancing and preserving.

Pamphlet advocating for the restoration and renovation of Georgetown (1924) and Capitol Hill (1963)
Washington D.C. maps showing “historic districts” (2012)

Concerning the context of text, the main point of the article argues the reasoning behind why places such as the Shaw Area are now all of a sudden so profitable. Based on the title Beyond a Boundary: Washington’s Historic Districts and Their Racial Contents what seem to be discussed race and specifically, “racial tension” (59) centered around this constant need for urban revival. Logan discusses this idea of groups such as the predominately white Dupont Circle Conservancy coming into an area who they deem has an “urban crisis” whether it be because of gang violence, drug trafficking among other things here are places that are in need of a “revival” (59). Logan’s position on the paper is very similar to David Fleming in his City of Rhetoric. Similarly to Fleming, Cameron notes the fact that most of these organization that are coming in to revamp are part of the same group of people that designated the area for what it was. For example, a place such as 5th & O just 10 years ago was labeled as a danger zone of drugs, and gang violence against 9th & O. Nowadays 5th & O and the Shaw Area in general is filled with new family owned restaurants, newly renovated row homes and successful young professionals and families.

Construction under way in 5th & O on houses
Renovated home in 5th & ) (Shaw) that can now be estimated to be worth around 1 million dollars

What is then looked over is the history of the people that have been living in the area dignified as going through an “urban crisis.” As a result, it is most likely that there will be some sort of an opposition and racial tension. Individuals that are connected to the 14th & U Street Coalition are that of African American/Black descent do have a problem with strangers invading their space. Within their labeled boundary, there is cultural liberation, self-expression and though it might not be as appealing for certain groups of people it is their space.  It doesn’t make it their neighborhood, not a community. As Cameron states, the opposition then lies with such groups mostly because the oppressed groups know the influence through politics and finance to do such things and label it as an enhancement. It seems as if it is an invasion of space. The more that is edited, renovated or revamped in any shape or manner that causes the original group of people to feel as if they cannot stay or are financially unable to stay will be seen as a threat.

To continue the discussion of context and the specific purpose that Cameron’s Beyond a Boundary: Washington’s Historic Districts and Their Racial Contents presents, one aspect that can be brought up is ideology. The ideology of an area like Shaw was once a dangerous narrative. Now it is family friendly, welcoming and small business owned area. This “urban” area is turning just suburban with all the successful (predominately) white families. The same streets that had a shooting or strawberries walking around in the 90s and early 2000s, is now under construction to be transformed to a  controlled environment.

As for the audience of Cameron’s piece, this scholarly article is written by an Australian PhD holder and the abstract is translated into French about D.C. areas. In the literal sense,  we can say that this article does not have a specific type of audience. Because of no specific audience, the various types might have different interpretations of what exactly this piece is saying. For one, individuals that might be on the side of the Dupont Circle Conservancy (DCC)  might have no realize the exact reason for the 14th & U Street Coalition Opposition. The audiences of the side of the DCC might have never gotten the opportunity to get the perspective of 14th & U Street African American group. Because this is an informative piece and not persuasive or satirical what such groups can collect is the history that they might be overlooking and erasing from these areas such as Shaw. For individuals such on the side of 14th & U they might have the material and understand that they are not the only groups going through the same identity struggle under the control of someone else with more power than them.

All in all, Cameron’s piece was that of revelations. It speaks of the importance and value of history of an area and the people. Now more than ever there seems to be a major shift in the areas of D.C. The nation’s capitol there seems to be a picture being painted as thing luxurious elite middle-upper-class culture pool. It’s attainable only if an individual work really, really hard for it. There seems to be this constant needing to renovate, readjust and enhance everything about the nation’s capitol. In the process, the people that are native to that area are being overlooked, kicked out and acted as their homes and neighborhoods are nothing. It’s unfair, unjust and a way to continue to have control oppressed groups of people and individual. Where is the justice in that?

Works Consulted

Logan, Cameron. “Beyond a Boundary: Washington’s Historic Districts and  Their Racial Contents.” Urban History Review; Toronto 41, no. 1 (Fall 2012): 57–69.

Sydney, The University of. “Dr Cameron Logan – The University of Sydney.” Accessed February 26, 2017.