Blog #3: Geospatial History and Harlem

The site that attracted my interest in Geospatial History is Digital Harlem. Harlem was the legendary African-American area of New York, and was the site of nightlife, gambling, entertainment and crime. The authors have researched data from New York crime statistics from legal files for Harlem in 1920, 1925 and 1930. For example, arrests in Harlem, at specific addresses, can be plotted on a map for 1920.

The detail is enlivened by photographs, and the website has five different areas of map-making, particularly on Numbers gambling, the various nightlife venues (nightclubs, buffet flats, and speakeasies), churches, sports, and events that occurred in January 1925. There is a great deal of information on this website. Searches on the information can be done by individuals’ names, or events or locations. The text panels that are available really fill in detail that can’t be shown on a map.

The difficulty, and maybe the advantage, of maps of historical events, is that information is hard to present in a linear way. The data is somewhat scattered, and linking one fact with another is left up to the reader. Although this provides some freedom to the reader, it relieves the historian from having to make those connections. Historical theses and conclusions are left out. Every history map I have read – and there are lots here that I want to go back and review later – leave me wanting to know where I can get a book on the subject. Maybe that’s good, and that is the purpose of history maps. Or maybe it is better to leave the conclusions up to the visitor?

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