1012bThe September 2014 issue of the Journal of American History features an interchange on the history of capitalism, which includes this shout-out to Playing the Numbers from Peter James Hudson, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles:

One of the more intriguing books to emerge is Playing the Numbers (2010). Examining the illegal lotteries organized by African Americans and Afro-Caribbean migrants in Harlem during the 1920s, the authors argue that such forms of financial organization were of such a scale and of such import that they need to be seen alongside the work of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. The authors also implicitly suggest the possibilities for thinking of the history of forms of economic organization and financial institutions on the margins of the formal market as economic and political forces.

Monographs such as Playing the Numbers suggest that we need to consider not only those modes of exchange and financial and economic organization that are outside of the formal market but also how they are often a necessary component of capitalist regimes of accumulation. Instead of trying to draw clear lines between precapitalist and capitalist forms or noncapitalist and capitalist forms of exchange and accumulation, it seems more productive to try to understand how, in many cases, the former—precapitalist modes of accumulation—are mobilized, used, and continued by the latter—especially in those regions where the transition to capitalism was contingent, provisional, and unfinished.

“Interchange: The History of Capitalism,” Journal of American History 101, 2 (September 2014): 528-29.

UHA Logo

I’ll be discussing Digital Harlem as part of my contribution to this roundtable:

Roundtable at the Urban History Association Biennial Conference, Philadelphia, October 10, 2014

Chair and Moderator: LaDale Winling, Virginia Tech


  • Colin Gordon, University of Iowa
  • Susan Lawrence, Ohio State University
  • Stephen Robertson, George Mason University, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
  • J. Mark Souther, Cleveland State University, Center for Public History and Digital Humanities

Since the 2008 publication of the Journal of American History’s Interchange “The Promise of Digital History,” the landscapes of print publishing, research methods, teaching resources, funding streams, and expectations of how to communicate digitally have changed dramatically.  Scholars have developed a robust ecosystem of digital history projects, especially in urban history, while digital methods and tools continue to gain traction within the profession.  Digital research and communication opportunities increasingly inform scholars’ interpretive frameworks, which reflects back on demand for digital tools, beginning to form an iterative feedback process between digital methods and scholarly inquiry in may seem an accelerating process.

Several urban historians, however, have been involved in the digital realm for significant portions of their careers.  This roundtable will draw upon the insights of some of the most experienced digital urban historians in discussion about digital topics increasingly central to the profession.   These will include the life cycles of digital projects, the changing value of tools and platforms, the role of digital skills and tools in training undergraduate and graduate students for research, and the value of digital work in building a career as a historian.

By offering the long view of the digital turn, this roundtable seeks to distinguish the signal from the noise, in the words of a recent work on data-driven analysis. What are the enduring values of digital research and publishing for historians, what are the greatest advantages and pitfalls of digital history for scholars of the urban realm?  What remains of the promise of digital history?

Featured Image -- 1860On April 25, I’m talking about “Putting Harlem on the Map: Visualizing Everyday Life in a 1920s Neighborhood” as part of the Mapping New York Symposium being held at the Bard Graduate Center.




New York has long fascinated image-makers in all genres of the visual and textual record. “Mapping New York” will be a symposium devoted to thinking and talking about visual representations of New York over several centuries and on into the future. The morning speakers will highlight several innovative new media projects–Hypercities, Digital Harlem, and Mannahatta2409. The afternoon will be devoted to presentations and discussion of the BGC Focus Gallery exhibit “Visualizing 19th Century New York” (Fall 2014) about the visual experience and spectacle of nineteenth-century New York City. The entire day will focus on spatial history, new media visualizations, digital history, and the history of New York City.

Also presenting: John Maciuika, Eric Sanderson, and Bard Graduate Center Students on the “Visualizing 19th Century New York” Focus Gallery exhibition, with comments by Joshua Brown and Barbara Clark Smith

On April 1, I’ll be giving two talks on Digital Harlem at the University of Pennsylvania.


Behind the Scenes at Digital Harlem

Tools-and-Techniques in the Digital Humanities, Digital Humanities Forum
TIME: 12:30-2:00pm
LOCATION: Penn Library

Digital Harlem is one of the earliest digital history projects to use Google Maps to visualize a range of historical sources, with the particular goal of exploring everyday life in the most famous black neighborhood of the 1920s. In this talk Stephen Robertson will discuss the process that produced the site, highlighting the contingencies, choices and failures that shaped the project, as well as the ways that Digital Harlem does not conform to the commonly held picture of large digital humanities projects.


The Differences Digital Mapping Made: Thinking Spatially about Race and Sexuality in 1920s Harlem

Richard Shryock Lecture in American History
TIME: 4:30pm
LOCATION: 209 College Hall

Digital Mapping, like the use of other digital tools, raises questions rather than provides answers. In the case of Digital Harlem, some of those questions concern the character of the neighborhood’s nightlife and residences, and where individuals spent their time. The answers to those questions reveal that homes provided more privacy than reformers recognized, allowing residents to engage in a wide range of sexualities. At the same time, outside the home, black residents regularly encountered whites, whose presence throughout the neighborhood made interracial encounters and conflicts an everyday feature of life in the nation’s most famous ‘black metropolis.’

The server at the University of Sydney that has been home to Digital Harlem has been shut down, and the site has been migrated to a new server. The site’s new address is: http://digitalharlem.org

The move has been a complex one, and unfortunately the map overlay does not currently work, so you can only see either the historical map or Google Maps.

5.coverOur article, “Harlem in Black and White: Mapping Race and Place in the 1920s,” has now appeared in the Journal of Urban History, vol. 35, no. 9, September 2013, pages 864-880. The abstract and a related map can be found in an earlier post announcing the acceptance of the article for publication in 2011.

LittleSnapperNicholas Grant, of the University of East Anglia, reviews Digital Harlem in the IHR’s Reviews in History for 25 July 2013.  The publication offers authors the chance to repond, which I did. The review offers an interesting, user-focused perspective on the site.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 59 other followers