Peabody Networks

Peabody Networks

Crowds walking to the Hemlock Fair, ca. 1900

July 26, 1902 was a day like many others for the 72-year-old Sheffield Peabody: he “drawed out” a load of hay from a field that had been mowed ten days before, and his son George L. went to church in Canadice that afternoon.  But his journal also records that “They have connected the telephone system with Springwater Central.  We can talk with the people in the valley.”  It may be hard for us to appreciate what a transformative moment this was; each time Sheffield wrote, as he often did, that he “went down to the valley,” the distance was four miles on dirt roads, with an elevation drop (or ascent) of more than 1,000 vertical feet, traveled by horse-drawn wagon or sleigh.  In 1885, having served as a juror for a murder trial held in Geneseo, Sheffield stayed at the home of Nelson Willis that night, traveled to Springwater the next morning, walked home from the Erie Railroad depot, then “commenced sowing barley” before finally pruning his orchard toward nightfall (11-12 May, 1885).  Telephones dramatically transformed all of these activities in a spatial but also a cultural sense.

This exhibit begins from an anachronous perspective—our own society whose informational, economic, and social networks are taken for granted.  Increasingly, we meet these needs without physical travel, through online or cloud technologies.  What did Sheffield’s networks look like?  How did he meet these needs?  Our premise is that a man for whom the term “went” is among the most common in his journals—“I went over to George Higgins’ today”; “I went to the valley”—enacted these networks in physical space, as we sometimes do but to a much lesser extent in the 21st century.  Through a combination of targeted questions and (word) mapping visualizations, Sheffield’s apparently simple life on a farm becomes much richer and socially complex.  The exploratory essays are organized under three broad headings: The Social Network, which maps Sheffield’s relations with various groups of people outside of his family; Circuits, which explores his farm as an economic node in relation to a circulation of mutual commerce & interdependency; and The Safety Net, focusing upon his later years and the need for medical, financial, and emotional support.


Noah Chauvin, Marisa Drpich, Jennifer Faes, Rebecca Gates, Devon Gawley, Brodie Guinan, Jessica Lolakas, Michelle Nitto, Courtney Yonce, Ken Cooper, Elizabeth Argentieri, Joseph Easterly. Thanks to: Betty Knoblock, Douglas Morgan, Joyce O'Neil, and Cynthia Van Ness.