Learning how to map community narratives using HistoryPin is a really interesting experience. It can help bring a community to life within the digital realm. By mapping out a narrative, it becomes easier to visualize that community’s story in a way that feels more intimate.
You are no longer just reading a description of something. For example, a landmark or a historical building. Instead, you are seeing the actual street it sits on. It is like you become the pin as you virtually step onto that street, which enables you to insert your consciousness into that space. As you continue to plot out the details of an area, you accumulate a better understand of the community, which can ultimately reveal new insights about it.
When you are from someplace and have lived there a long time, you intrinsically understand it in a way that relates to its spatial landscape. Not only do you know all the streets by heart, all the cracks in the road, and the quirks of the neighborhood, but you know who lives where and how that affects the way you view them and the way they view you. Eventually the point of view of your community becomes almost personified as a whole personality and gets embedded within you, whether you come to embrace or reject it. Although it is presumptuous to think you could ever gain a perfect understanding of an unfamiliar community by mapping it, it does allow an entryway into acquiring some of that knowledge inherent in its residents.
I think Stephen Robertson’s “Putting Harlem on the Map,” is the best example of this. By mapping out Harlem during the 1920s, he is able to delve into the landscape of that neighborhood in a different way than just via written accounts. Robertson picks up patterns and surprising details about the residents and their quotidian life, such as the black response to Prohibition’s impact on their neighborhood, which brought more whites to their area. As an outsider, Robertson would not have necessarily been able to conceptualize that impact for himself and make that observation without the help of mapping.