Durham, NC is the home of Duke University, our institutional home and setting. It is also a city whose origins and development in the post-Civil War South reflect complex racial and economic relations and inheritances that still shape the city’s fabric, industries, and communities today. Durham gained prominence as a tobacco and textile production center, a railway hub, a site of Black entrepreneurship and enterprise- was famously called out for attention by WEB DuBois and Booker T Washington – and as the site of Trinity College (which eventually became Duke University), along with North Carolina Central University and other educational institutions. It was also the site of urban renewal and highway projects that decimated established Black communities, and is currently in the midst of an economic boom that is both revitalizing downtown and pricing existing communities out of their own homes. The Durham project team focused on how fill in a piece of that history, between the post-bellum and urban renewal periods, by investigating the practice of redlining, a post-Depression-era discriminatory housing practice in which lenders categorized and rated neighborhoods according to their insurability based upon racial and other factors. Nationally, the outcome of this practice was that very few FHA insured homes were sold to people of color in the subsequent decades. Locally, longstanding variations in community investment and property values continue to have effects on the urban fabric and the experience the city’s inhabitants.
To help students explore this topic, the Durham team created an R tutorial for building an interactive map based on the 1937 Home Owner Loan Corporation’s Residential Security Map of Durham.
By actively creating an interactive map, students are encouraged to think through how consequential such visual and quantitative representations of urban space can be, and how maps can both create a reality, and reflect it. The Durham team conceived of this exercise as just a starting point, and one of several possible approaches to mapping Durham history, and with the potential to add in additional data layers, testimonies, and other media to help explore the presence of the past in Durham’s challenges today. We anticipate building upon this exercise in future semesters of the Digital Durham history and digital humanities course, and related projects.