As part of the process of exploring the riot, in 2016 I developed a prototype of a spatial narrative of the riot using Neatline.

The exhibit first unpacks 125th St as a context, and then divides the events into four chronological phases, each visible when the timeline is positioned within the appropriate timespan – 2.30-10pm; 10pm to midnight; midnight to 2.30am; and 2.30am to 5.30am. (I’ve used more opaque borderless points to represent events that can’t be placed on the timeline; they appear after 10pm and remain on through the remaining phases of the riot, the timespan in which they would have occurred).

The timeline slider at the bottom of the screen provides the means of navigating the exhibit – dragging it changes both the points visible on the map, and the waypoints visible in the right-hand menu.

The waypoints aren’t tied to particular events; they explore broader patterns. And rather than each being tied to an individual point on the timeline, related arguments are grouped together. The window in which each waypoint displays only holds a few sentences of text, so grouping them allows scope for more complex ideas to be developed. By the same token, breaking those ideas into smaller sections makes them more accessible, with each section title operating as a marker and a summary. Groupings of waypoints also provide some flexibility in how a narrative is read – you can roll over each waypoint in a group, and explore them out of sequence, with those options limited to reduce the change that you could lose your way in the argument.

Beyond the text, the waypoints work to provide a pathway through the map in two other ways. Each waypoint can be associated with a zoom level centered on a specific location. Clicking on a series of waypoints thus moves you around a map. Annotations can also be attached to each waypoint. I’ve tried to use polygons and lines to direct attention to the analysis of space in my narrative: to movement, direction, proximity, connection, and patterns. Used in that way, annotations shift some of argument into a visual form. Combined, zooming and centering and annotations offer guidance on how to read the map, while allowing the map to retains some complexity by keeping all the points from a timespan visible – rather than having to disaggregate event types into layers, as you do on the Year of the Riot site.

The current version of the Neatline exhibit features uses as a basemap a map of the racial distribution of Harlem’s population published in the New York Times in the aftermath of the riot. No source is given for the data in this map, but it had enough credibility to be reprinted in [book] (where it is misattributed to the New York Sun).

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