UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond has released an updated version of the popular project “Mapping Inequality.”

The open access project, the largest collection of maps produced by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the 1930s, focuses on redlining, the practice of denying financial services to residents based on race or ethnicity.

Rob Nelson Headshot“HOLC's documents contain a wealth of information about how government officials, lenders, and real estate discriminated against families of color and channeled capital to white families through mortgages,” said Rob Nelson, DSL director. “These maps are the go-to example used nearly every day by journalists and scholars in analyses of redlining and its consequences.”

The newly released version of “Mapping Inequality” now includes more than 200 cities, more than 45 of which were not in the original version. The project now also includes transcriptions of area descriptions the HOLC created alongside the maps to assign grades — nearly a third of a million individual pieces of data. The descriptions include information about the neighborhood's quality of housing, the recent history of sale and rent values, and the racial and ethnic identity and class of residents that served as the basis of the neighborhood's grade.

“These transcriptions make the human dimension and the human cost of these maps very clear,” said Nelson. “Anyone reading the area descriptions for any city in the country will likely quickly encounter people of color and immigrants described as an ‘infiltration’ or as ‘undesirable’ or ‘inharmonious’ or ‘subversive.’ Twenty-first-century readers can find the matter-of-fact racism of these government documents shocking.”

One specific example Nelson points to is a description of a section of the Proctor District in Tacoma, Washington, where the agents redlined the area because three middle-class black families lived there. “While very much above the average of their race,” they wrote of these families, “it is quite generally recognized by Realtors that their presence seriously detracts from the desirability of their immediate neighborhood.”

Examples like these can be found in the hundreds of cities HOLC surveyed, each of which disadvantaged African American and immigrant families from becoming homeowners.

Data and images from “Mapping Inequality” have been cited in numerous national media articles, including NPR, Gizmodo, and CityLab. The real estate company Zillow used the maps to analyze redlining-home value research. The maps were also a main resource for a major study showing that historic redlining practices could increase chances of suffering from asthma and a white paper from three economists at the Federal Reserve quantifying the substantial impact of these maps on inequalities that spanned generations.

Since the DSL unveiled “Mapping Inequality” in October 2016, more than half a million users have accessed the project.

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Mapping Inequality is part of The American Panorama project, which is funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and completed in collaboration with scholars at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech.

 

Shocking Language

“Anyone reading the area descriptions for any city in the country will likely quickly encounter people of color and immigrants described as an ‘infiltration’ or as ‘undesirable’ or ‘inharmonious’ or ‘subversive.’ Twenty-first-century readers can find the matter-of-fact racism of these government documents shocking.”

-Rob Nelson, DSL director

Director, Digital Scholarship Lab
19th century United States
Digital humanities