Scale and Narrative: Conceiving a Long-form Digital Argument for Data-driven Microhistory

My chapter “Scale and Narrative: Conceiving a Long-form Digital Argument for Data-driven Microhistory” has appeared in Zoomland: Exploring Scale in Digital History and Humanities, an open-access volume edited by Florentina Armaselu and Andreas Fickers and published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg at the very end of 2023.

The cfp for the collection provided an opportunity to elaborate the thinking behind the form of my forthcoming digital publication on the outbreak of racial violence in Harlem in 1935. It reflects my current thinking about the issue of how to present an analysis of what mapping sources reveals raised by Digital Harlem more than a decade ago, shaped by the more recent projects on presenting argument-driven digital history in print on which I’ve collaborated with Lincoln Mullen. It is intended as a contribution to conversations about what is involved in a humanities approach to data. The chapter, however, does not reflect the final form of the digital publication. After it was written in 2022, the process of completing the publication and the time constraints imposed by the abrupt decision of Stanford University Press to end the Digital Projects series led to some reduction in the number of aggregated patterns it explored.

Abstract: The framework for historical argument derived from the print monograph is increasingly untenable for digital historians. Digital argument is inclusive rather than selective in both its evidence and its form. The data required by digital methods produces multiple intertwined threads of interpretation and argument, resulting in arguments that are more expansive, larger in scale, than fit in a book. The alternative is obviously to present digital argument in its nativemedium. This chapter analyzes how I conceive a form for one such argument, Harlem in Disorder: A Spatial History of How Racial Violence Changed in 1935; a multi-layered hyperlinked narrative that connects different scales of analysis: individual events, aggregated patterns and a chronological narrative. In three sections I lay out my understanding of the nature of digital argument, the options I considered for presenting it and the details of the form that I decided to employ.