Digital Harlem 1915-1930
ARC Discovery Project
The project is producing an ethnographic portrait of Harlem in 1915-1930 when the arrival of migrants from the south and the West Indies transformed the neighbourhood. The basic dataset is surviving case files of the Manhattan District Attorney, which reveal all manner of things that would not ordinarily be labelled criminal - street life, black language, music, family life - as well as evidence of the role of gambling, violence and confidence men in the black community. In addition, it uses probation files, prison records, undercover investigations, social surveys, census schedules and the two major newspapers published in Harlem.
The site employs digital technology to integrate a range of sources to visualize and explore the spatial dimensions of everyday life in Harlem. The on-line database that supports the site enables data to be entered from any web-accessible location. Queries against this data are then used to generate interactive map displays dynamically. The database can be searched for, and the interface can then map, particular places or types of location, events, where an individual lived his/her life, or moments in time – or any combination of such data. Both the database and the map interface were refined over a period of more than three years as data was added, additional types of data were integrated and the researchers developed a clearer sense of how the data could be analysed and visualised.
The MySQL database was developed using the Archaeological Computing Laboratory’s T1000 database creation tool. The address locations recorded in the historical sources were initially mapped using an on-line geo-coding service and displayed in Google Maps. These locations were refined and additional locations added with reference to Bromley Fire Risk maps of the study area from the 1930s. In 2010 the maps from a volume of the Bromley maps was digitised and geo-registered and delivered in Google Earth to provide a contemporaneous background for the historical data.
In 2010, the American Historical Association awarded Digital Harlem the inaugural Roy Rosenzweig Fellowship for Innovation in Digital History. The citation notes that the site:
"presents the social history of a particular time and place in an elegant way that encourages exploration and new discoveries. The team behind the site draws on the strength of the primary sources and uses digital techniques to allow the viewer to see elements and patterns during the Harlem Renaissance that would be difficult to characterize in narrative."
"In addition to being open access, Digital Harlem is open-ended: researchers can explore themes of interest to them, layering experimental searches upon each other to envision the character and interactions of everyday life. The site also powerfully shows what can be done with the combination of common technology (Google Maps) with deep archival research and outstanding web design and functionality."