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Charles Booth: Pioneer of sociology.

Life and Labour of the People. Mapped economic statistics.

This is just a limited start on a page to celebrate the work of Charles Booth, 1840-1916.

For many years, I'd known of his socio-economic maps of London. They were among the first of their important kind. A personal note: As I started writing this page I discovered that he and my great-grandfather might have known one another.

Charles Booth was in some ways a shining example of the best sort of "Victorian". Like Dickens, he refused to ignore the abject poverty which abounded in London.

He made a careful study, a quantitative and exhaustive study of the socio-economic conditions across the town... and created beautiful maps of his terrible data.

Furthermore, he repeated his work a number of times, so that the various maps not only reveal, in quantified and "scientific" terms, the conditions at a moment in time, but also reveal how the "ecology" of the town evolved.

Here, thank you Wikipedia, and the Wikipedia contributors, is a tiny sample....

Booth map of Whitechapel Booth poverty map colour key

To learn more, there is the Wikipedia article on Booth, and the article on his research.

Ironically, that small sample of Booth's research, by total coincidence (it was just the bit I could lay my hands on easily) very nearly covers a part of London where my great-grandfather may have had a business, and one of street names may be connected with relatives of his wife. Small world, as ever.

As far as I have been able to discover so far, there is no connection between the Booth of the Poverty Maps and the Booths of the Salvation Army, even though they were near contemporaries, and shared certain interests.

While the maps are often called "the Poverty Maps", they were, of coure, also maps of "Plenty". But the rich didn't need help, and the poor did... desperately. Booth's work quantified the extent and degree of the towns poverty. It was a statistical work. And once those figures had been gathered, it became more difficult to ignore the plight of the poor.

The maps were an important pioneering effort... but even today they are of some current use, for what they tell us about the history of certain districts. There was a report on the BBC website in February 2012, showing a use of the maps this way.

In 2012, BBC 2 aired The Secret History of our Streets, which did a fine job of visiting specific neighbourhoods, and talking about "then and now", with heavy reference to Mr. Booth's research.

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