Putting the Census in Place

“Putting the Census in Place,” presented at The 1940 Census: A Public Roundtable Discussion, Digital Humanities Lab, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, April 10, 2012


Aggregated census data has been important in establishing the character of Harlem as a black neighbourhood. Census schedules individualize that data and, more importantly for the Digital Harlem project, locate individuals at an address, in a specific place. So while we use census schedules to identify and trace individuals, we more often use them to reconstruct places within the neighbourhood, as part of an approach that seeks, as Ian Gregory and Paul Ell put it, to “subdivide the place under study into multiple smaller places and give some indication of how these places interact.”

This paper takes 116 West 144th Street as an example, examing the inhabitants of this six-floor apartment building as they appear in  the census schedules for 1920, 1925 (when NY undertook a state census), 1930 and 1940, tracing who moved in and out, and where they came from or went, and who stayed, and looking beyond the race of those residents to their ethnicity, revealing this address as one in which West Indians gathered.

A version of this talk appeared as a blog post on Digital Harlem

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