The goal of The Black Gotham Digital Archive is to link an interactive web site with the geographical spaces of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to create a deeper understanding of black life in nineteenth-century New York City. The project is an extension of my book, Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (Yale UP, 2011), as I develop new media forms that allow greater flexibility, interactivity, and the potential for reaching a broader audience. Eventually the site will allow users to access information about designated Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn sites via their smartphones.

Peter Guignon

Both my book and my archive are structured around two principal concepts. The first is chronological history, in which I trace generations of my family and of New York’s black elite from about 1805 to 1895. The second is social geography in which I illustrate how members of the elite men inhabited a series of concentric circles, each wider than the last: their social circle of close friends; the broader black community as well as city neighborhoods; Gotham itself; more distant locations such as Boston and Philadelphia; and finally the world (since elite members originated from all parts of the globe).

The digital archive complements my book by providing a fuller visual portrait of nineteenth-century black New Yorkers and the city they lived in. It addresses many constituencies: the curious tourist who simply wishes to learn more about black life in nineteenth-century New York; scholars seeking to further their archival research in the area; high school and college teachers looking for new pedagogical tools for teaching black history; New Yorkers (black and white) who want to share their own stories and enhance our knowledge base.white inhabitants through a variety of contacts, some predictable, some not.

The Five Points in 1827

The Black Gotham Digital Archive was made possible by a yearlong fellowship (2011-2012) from the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). MITH is a leading digital humanities center that pursues disciplinary innovation and institutional transformation through applied research, public programming, and educational opportunities. Jointly supported by the University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities and the University of Maryland Libraries, MITH engages in collaborative, interdisciplinary work at the intersection of technology and humanistic inquiry. MITH specializes in text and image analytics for cultural heritage collections, data curation, digital preservation, linked data applications, and data publishing.

I am grateful for the dedicated work of the three members of my MITH team: webmaster, Amanda Visconti who worked on the technical aspects of the site; designer, Kirsten Keister who took responsibility for designing the site; and project coordinator, Seth Denbo who helped me with both the structure and content of the archive and also taught me the mechanics for building the archive and exhibits. The Archive was built and runs on the software platform, Omeka, which was created by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

My thanks also go to the many institutions and individuals who located and made available manuscript material and images for both the book and the archive: the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, especially Diana Lachatanere in the Manuscripts and Rare Books Division, Mary Yearwood and Antony Toussaint in Prints and Photographs, and Christopher Moore, curator and researcher; the New York Public Library Schwartzman Building, especially Matthew Knutzen in the Map Room, and Tom Lisanti, Manager of Rights and Reproduction; the New York Historical Society, especially Joe Festa and Marybeth Kavanagh in Prints and Photographs; the Museum of African American History in Boston, especially Chandra Harrington and Marilyn Schaeffer; the Moorland-Spingarn Center at Howard University, especially Joellen Elbashir; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Library Company of Philadelphia; the Wisconsin Historical Society; the State Archives of Florida; and John Norton.

Details of credits to the appropriate holding institution are located below each image in the “Browse the Archive” section. Permission to use an image should be obtained from the holding institution.

My final thanks go to Shelley Fisher Fishkin for her inspiration, encouragement, and wisdom—as always.