Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California's Exclusionary Spaces

    By David Theo Goldberg & Richard Marciano
    Programming by Chien-Yi Hou

    Open Project

    The color-coding of the maps, we note in passing, form the basis also of the contemporary Homeland Security alert system, thus linking histories of urban segregation abstractly to more recent patterns of national restriction.

    - David Theo Goldberg, Authors' Statement

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    Video tutorial
    Overview of the T-RACES demo site by project author Richard J Marciano

    Editor's Introduction
    As I zoom in and out of Google maps, zipping across both scales and continents, it is easy to sustain a fantasy of mastery and control. The map is there for my pleasure in this moment, a document I traverse with the swoop of a hand and the glide of a cursor. But, of course, I know better. Maps do not so easily yield to my demands. They are congealed registers of power and ideology, sedimenting and concealing layer upon layer of history and experience in the presumed objectivity of place. While the increasingly ubiquitous navigation systems of our cars and iPhones promise that digital technologies will allow us to conquer space in the moment we are in (insisting that "you are here"), might we deploy these very technologies against the presumed legibility and transparency of the map itself? Might maps be made to speak their pasts and might we come to understand how these pasts continue to shape our present? T-RACES aims to do just this. Bringing together the historical documents of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency that helped instantiate practices of redlining, and a Google maps application, the project provides a grounded and textured explanation for continuing practices of segregation in several Californian and North Carolinian cities.

    T-RACES mashes up a popular commercial platform with public records housed at the National Archives in order to position digital material in a very particular way. At one level, T-RACES functions as a well-conceived archive, making available in digital form important historical documents concerning urban development and U.S. racial history. That alone is highly commendable. However, the vision for the project extends beyond simply providing access to these records. Rather, the project brings these historical documents together with an informed body of scholarly research, creating the stage for important and timely investigations into the many ways in which the built landscape works in tight feedback loops with social attitudes about race. Put differently, the project can both provide materials for new scholarly investigations in several humanities disciplines and itself serve as an excellent example of new computationally-driven outcomes for humanities research. The concerns of scholarship and data preservation are deeply intertwined in the project, enriching both the research and the archive. This is an archive with a point of view, moving beyond the "neutral" presentation of data toward an interpretative modality. At a time when many are expressing concern about the need for new directions for the humanities, T-RACES offers up a compelling model for new collaborations between humanities scholars, archivists, and technologists.

    — Tara McPherson, October 7th, 2011