GIS mapping can be an important tool in the process of place-making, which is one of the many responsibilities of a public historian. A map can be an excellent starting point for compiling information on a particular place and a GIS map allows for layers of data, creating a rich archive. One great example of this is the Digital Harlem project. The creators of this website focused their study on Harlem in the early twentieth century and compiled all of the information that they could find and that could be mapped. This includes locations of schools, speakeasies, baseball fields, arrests, weddings, and the movement of specific people.
The information is cross-referenced in multiple ways. You can select an event, such as an automobile crash, the time of day, and the source of the data and the incidents will appear on the map. There is also a timeline below the map that lists all of the selected incidents with additional information according to the year and you can click on each map location to get more information about a specific incident. You can also select from a list of places or type in a specific address or select a person and see the various places they lived and worked in the city. The timeline below the map provides more information about everything on it. There is also a link to a blog that delves deeper into various issues. The last entry was on February 13, 2018 so it’s nice to see that it’s still active.
This project provides an enormous amount of information that would be invaluable to someone studying Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. It creates a dynamic portrait of a neighborhood that can be viewed through various lenses. It’s also free, and readily accessible to anyone with Internet access, which means that people who would never be able to scour the archives like the creators of this site did are still able to obtain the information. Sites like this are amazing treasure troves of data for those wanting to look at history in a different way by focusing on a place rather than a specific time period or incident. This type of perspective is important in studying and saving local communities. Creating a GIS map of a local neighborhood and layering the map with the neighborhood’s history would be an excellent way of helping residents to understand the area’s past and gain their support for possible building preservation efforts or local history projects.