Prof. Stephen Robertson Awarded NEH Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication for “Harlem in Disorder: A Spatial History of How Racial Violence Changed in 1935”


We are pleased to announce that in December 2020, Dr. Stephen Robertson, Professor of U.S. History, was awarded a NEH Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication in support of “Harlem in Disorder: A Spatial History of How Racial Violence Changed in 1935.” The fellowship will allow Dr. Robertson to spend the 2021-22 academic year completing a digital publication detailing the outbreak of social disorder in Harlem during the evening and early morning hours of March 19-20, 1935. At the time of their occurrence these events “immediately attracted national attention as the first large-scale racial violence in the United States in more than a decade” and were later recognized by scholars as “the first instance of a new form of racial violence characterized by black attacks on white property and clashes with police.”  Recurrent and widespread protests against racial injustice and police brutality in more recent years (2013-2020) only seem to underscore the continuing social and political relevance of Dr. Robertson’s research.

In terms of methodological innovation, “Harlem in Disorder” aims to demonstrate the benefits of spatial analysis and other “layered” or non-linear forms of argumentation and presentation afforded by digital formats. More specifically, Dr. Robertson will employ the digital publishing platform Scalar to design and present a multi-layered, hyperlinked argument that allows one to both connect and traverse varying scales of analysis including overarching narratives, aggregated patterns, and individual incidents.

Project table of contents Project table of contents

In order to more fully capture and highlight “the complexity and heterogeneity of the form of racial disorder that characterized the second half of the twentieth century,” the project invites readers to actively explore “the tensions between linear narrative and the way that a disorder occurs in various places, involves patterns as well as individual events, and requires interpretation of fragmentary and contradictory sources.” At the heart of this approach is the use of digital maps and tagging, which will not only provide “multiple pathways in addition to the narrative of events,” but also “help readers see the context of events and patterns and make visible the sources and interpretations on which those analyses are based.” 

“Year of the Riot” map“Year of the Riot” map

Example of an event pageExample of an event page 

With this award, Dr. Robertson joins a distinguished list of colleagues in the Department of History and Art History whose research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.