When I started my MLIS program with a focus in Archives & Digital Curation, I had no real understanding of what I could accomplish with my degree aside from working at an archival institution. One day for my Introduction to Archives course our professor took the class to the Digital Curation Innovation Center to learn about its mission and current projects. I was immediately drawn to the Mapping Inequality project because it was a great example of the societal value of archival and digital curation projects. Rather than discuss the notions and theory of preserving “societal memory” and affecting the narrative for future generations, I could finally see and understand a real-world application of digital curation and how it could affect a community.
The Mapping Inequality project gives context to surveys used by the U.S. government to determine whether or not it would invest in certain neighborhood. This had profound effects for these neighborhoods; how they are structured today was informed by these 1920s and 1930s surveys. These records alone can tell that story but whether the public can ascertain that information depends on information literacy, context and accessibility. That’s where an archivist and digital curation can come in. Archivists can make sense of the information in records and digital curation is the mean through which they make the information open and accessible to the public.
I have lived in Maryland for 20 years. While I don’t know much about Baltimore because I’ve always lived in Prince George’s County, the DCIC’s Mapping Inequality project’s focus on Baltimore has helped me learn more about the history of a city so close by. It’s interesting to see how the surveys and subsequent bank loans and investments or lack thereof for certain neighborhoods either led to its prosperity or failure; in some cases even gentrification, mainly into areas where the land was ideal but the people were deemed “undesirable”.
I hope that opening these records to the public will increase awareness on systematic housing oppression and modern gentrification. It took me 20 years before I saw the Baltimore records. It’s time the US looks at the housing records as a whole.