Now that we have moved onto the Burleigh stage of our research interim, we are getting into the real, fun, and juicy stuff! This is the main project of our course, and I am seriously enjoying it so far. My research process thus far has been looking into historical newspaper databases such as those of The New York Times, The Sun, New-York Tribune, and Washington Bee. These all have extensive articles on Burleigh’s performances and performances of Burleigh’s works, so it has a been a rewarding and fruitful experience thus far. One problem we’ve run into, however, is the fact that H.T. Burleigh performed at St. George’s Episcopal Church hundreds of times. Initially, my partner and I came up with over 50 (concrete) performances at St. George’s Episcopal Church, where Burleigh was the soloist. A friend of ours put them each individually into the spreadsheet and from there we made a clustered point map. Unfortunately, because Burleigh was the soloist at St. George’s and sang there literally every week for 52 years (At LEAST once a week.), we would have thousands of points plotted on the location of St. George’s and the cluster would fill literally the entire map. For this reason, I divided our map as it currently stands into two layers: a point map that isn’t clustered and a heat map. In this way, a user can see and browse the variety of locations where H.T. Burleigh performed throughout his career in New York City (NYC) or quickly grasp the concentration of his performances. There are already a serious variety of points on this map and we are nowhere near done. It is so exciting!
Another exciting resource I found while performing my research was a website called Historic Map Works.com. This website is super exciting because it’s a database of beautiful and detailed historical maps from literally all over the world! Especially useful to us are some Erie maps from 1876 and New York City maps from the early 20th century. The maps have already been extremely useful to me in quickly finding out what a location’s exact address is based on vague street names or the name of a restaurant. It helped me find places like “Delmonico’s on 44th and 5th” or “The Casino at 39th and Broadway.” Obviously, these places no longer exist, but after doing some quick research and looking at the maps that are provided by this site, it’s easy to find historic and accurate locations. I’m excited to use this resource and see where and how it can help us in our research and presentation of our maps. Maybe some groups, like that working on Burleigh’s life in Erie, can make use of them as overlays in ArcGIS? The opportunities and information this website provides us are invaluable to our work.
Thinking about what the map presents (in its incomplete form), I think a critical point of interest is that Burleigh’s performances in NYC were almost entirely outside of Harlem. This is interesting insofar as Burleigh’s work is considered by scholars to be central and vitally important to the elevation of black culture during the Harlem Renaissance. His performances and arrangements of spirituals were certainly central to the Harlem Renaissance movement. Black nationalist composers such as Burleigh and Clarence Cameron White used them and other folk songs as the base for their compositions that elevated the status of black art and music.1 Samuel Floyd notes that during the Harlem Renaissance, “after hours everyone, white and black, went to Harlem to hear black music.”2 So why does it seem, according to the map, that Burleigh didn’t actually perform that much in Harlem?
For one, it’s important to note that this map is not done. For this reason I cannot draw a fair conclusion. There are probably data points not yet collected, perhaps predominantly from black press, that show Burleigh actively performing in Harlem throughout the 1920’s. I think that to further investigate this and draw a fair conclusion, more research must be done. It would also be valuable to explore the map of performances of Burleigh’s work. This may show that, perhaps, Burleigh was active in Harlem, or rather his music was. He may have had locational influence in the area while he was active performing elsewhere at locations such as St. George’s and Temple Emanu-El, neither of which are in Harlem. I want to see where this map leads and where my peers’ maps lead so we can further explore this quandary. Yet, maybe this will be a non-issue as we move forward – perhaps Burleigh was, in fact, very active in Harlem throughout his earlier career. These spatial questions and the other questions they raise are interesting to explore; I cannot wait to see where our research further leads us!