History should transcend beyond what is written in a book. It is an organic being that requires context to be fully understood and relevant to the present. Digitization can condense multiple resources and pieces of information that may have been scattered throughout various libraries, historical societies, and college campuses into a convenient, easily accessible resource. Why study the Battle of Antietam if one cannot visualize the layout of the battlefield the way the generals saw it in 1862? The practice also incorporates different people into the history field who may have not seen their role ever interacting with the humanities, such as computer scientists and website developers. Providing different perspectives in the digitization of history could help create a clean, aesthetically pleasing database that is informative and easy to navigate. Implementing technology that we take for granted today (Google Maps, Earth) can give us side-by-side comparisons with past designs and layouts of towns and cities, allowing historians to observe growth and change throughout time, pinpointing specific time periods and events.
Looking at the Digital Harlem Project, the creators aimed to discover what everyday life was like in Harlem throughout its growth. While much emphasis is placed on the famous authors, musicians, and artists that emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, the project focused on the average resident and how their lives were. Real estate records helped identify the size of buildings at the time, and police records assisted in finding addresses of those who were not listed in real estate information, which was not “addressed” in historical records of Harlem. The project also focuses on how nightclubs and speakeasies helped develop certain parts of the borough.
A project like “Putting Harlem on the Map” gives historians perspective and location when conducting research. It provides context for movement of people, ideas, and culture. It also draws connections between materials that have been ignored in the past (police records, traffic accident records) and uses them to tie into cultural presence and movement.