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Dr. Samuel Otterstrom: Comparison of Historical Markers in Florida and Virginia

Embarking on a cross-country journey, Dr. Samuel Otterstrom delved into the historical fabric of Florida and Virginia, where over 3,500 historical markers unveil tales of the past. Brigham Young University sponsored this collaborative study, with Diana Hood, a recent Geography graduate, and several current BYU students contributing to categorizing these markers.

Otterstrom personally visited iconic sites such as the "African Cemetery at Higgs Beach" in Key West, Florida, commemorating Africans rescued from illegal slave ships in 1880, and the birthplace of James Madison in King George County, Virginia. However, the enormity of the project required a hybrid approach. Sourcing images from platforms like the Florida Historical Marker List and Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Otterstrom and his team digitally explored numerous markers, meticulously reading and sorting their content. They ensured a study that combined the personal touch of on-site visits with the precision of digital analysis.

“Possible Vicinity of Juan Ponce de Leon’s Landing” historical marker and observer. Brevard County, Florida. Photo from Dr. Samuel Otterstrom

Research unveiled disparities between the two states, with Florida focusing on commemorating buildings, structures, and themes related to Spain and Native Americans. Virginia leaned towards military-related markers, boasting 401 markers (16.2% of the total) dedicated to Civil War individuals. In representing women's history, both states showed small percentages of historical markers, with Florida dedicating 4.4% to women compared to Virginia's 2.2%.

The Differential Geographical Index (DG) illuminated the uneven spread of markers within each state. Population centers, like Miami-Dade and Orlando, surprisingly housed fewer markers, hinting at the challenges of keeping pace with marker designation amid rapid population growth.

Dr. Otterstrom and Diana Hood’s exploration shows a wonderful interplay between historical markers and the landscapes they inhabit. Dr. Otterstrom reflects on his experience, saying: "I enjoyed traveling and studying a large number of historical markers in both Florida and Virginia. It was also a blessing to work with excellent students doing the analysis of the written material on the markers".

Dr. Otterstrom's full article was published in 2023 as a feature article in the Journal "Material Culture", Volume 55, No 2. Access the article here.