Digital Harlem – digital collections and exhibitions

Wyman et al. focus on user behavior in digital spaces and how new forms of storytelling can be used in museums. They state that the aim of a museum is “to create an experience”. Digital Harlem falls short in being an experience. It’s not digital museum (and it does not pretend to be one) but similar to projects like Hypercities or Orbis in it’s spatial configuration. It allows the user to create content layers that can be projected on Google Maps, e.g. information on a certain person or events such as Sports games or acts of crime. The use of Google Maps is somewhat anachronistic as some roads were renamed since the period of Digital Harlem (1915-1930), e.g. the Malcom X Boulevard.

Digital Harlem is a project by four historians at the University of Sidney, and won digital history awards of the American Historical Association and the American Library Association in 2010. It currently presents 1025 people, 4772 events, and 4003 addresses which the project team extracted from 4031 documentary sources related to Harlem in the years 1915 to 1930.

Like Orbis, I’d consider Digital Harlem interesting for didactic or research purposes. The search engine can help to frame research questions or could be interesting for school kids to search for events of crime, sports. Also genealogists certainly will like the website. The project blog does provide examples of how the website embraces historical research:

If enriched with content (pictures, movies, interviews etc.), and programmed more professionally, Digital Harlem might be developed to a digital museum experience. However, this does not seem to be the projects aim.



1st year MA student in Public History, Northeastern University

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