Methodology

What does the liberation of our imagination sound like, look like, or feel like? To which I answer, work—deconstructive work to broaden our understanding of silence and space outside of violence, and reconstructive work to recreate and retell stories and histories.

Oftentimes, public historical works in the material environment shape our imagination. These memorials, particularly literature and landmarks, frame our understanding of the past. In Brooklyn, this commemorative practice has violently silenced Brooklyn’s black community and inhibits our ability to imagine ways to commemorate ourselves. For example, the name of and “plaque in Schenck Park commemorates the family’s contributions to the history of Brooklyn” without mention of them being a notorious slaveholding family⁠1. The plaque describes the family as descendants from Holland whose “members of the family served in political office over several generations,” and further mentions the park as the site of Public School 72.⁠2 Detailed but not comprehensive, the plaque fails to mention the enslaved Africans who lived there and built the early farms, roads, and homes of Brooklyn.”⁠3 Many other memorializing public works, be they street signs, neighborhood names, buildings, or bridges, elicit the same form of selective exclusion of black people while highlighting the positive achievements of Europeans and their descendants. This is silence.

Scholars have broken down the language of silence in psychology, trauma theory, and public commemoration, setting a firm foundation for Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn. Detailing the psychological benefits of public commemorative practices, “Two Minutes of Silence: Social Technologies[ moving over from social to digital technologies (individual and group aspect)] of Public Commemoration” provides insight on how collective silence—“a strategy for managing collective memory”—constructively impacts the mental state⁠4. In this article, Steven D. Brown outlines the power of acknowledging but not absorbing oneself in the past (through recognition of the “diverse range of commemorative practices developed in the wake of the First World War.⁠5”) This practice of collective silence gives way to an intergenerational aspect of memorialization. It reworks the silence so it does not only center those who have gone on, but allows participants to validate and center their feelings through an enactment of their own empathy and sorrow. “Silence ultimately reveals to us the sounds made by the functioning of our bodies, from which we never escape. Silence brings us back to ourselves.”⁠6 This directly informs the digital structure of the memorial of Black Brooklyn and transfers effortlessly over to those partaking in it. It completes their involvement by providing recognized space for them to mourn the eerie connection they feel to the black people who have gone before them without tampering with that memory. Or in the language of the article, without opening the past up for interpretation and debate. Though intense, it is important as it leaves silence as an indication of trauma; a remnant of historical violence as a pure sign without refining it. Likewise, it justifies the decision of past, present, and future Black Brooklyn’s to hold onto their silence.

Regardless of one’s positioning to Black Brooklyn’s silence, the switch from what is mourned to one’s self and one’s involvement, negative or positive, cannot be avoided. Though scholar Steve D. Brown places real emphasis on material environments, he also acknowledges that “it will not do to imagine that embedding memory in a concrete form will suffice to do justice to the past because remembering is an activity rather than a substance.”⁠7 And so, we use digital technologies to model the activity of remembrance. Dolores Hayden provides the blueprint for overcoming the narrow scope of historiography and memorialization. “To reverse the neglect of physical resources important to women’s history and ethnic history is not a simple process… Restoring significant shared meanings for many neglected urban places first involves claiming the entire urban cultural landscape as an important part of American history, not just its architectural monuments. This means emphasizing the building types… that have housed working people’s everyday lives. Second, it involves finding creative ways to interpret modest buildings as part of the flow of contemporary city life.”⁠8

Michel-Rolph Trouillot also provides a framework for the deinstitutionalizing of historical production in order to confront these silences. He informs his readers that “silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance.)”⁠9 Working backwards, I have already retrieved the silences that entered Black Brooklyn’s moment of retrospective significance, otherwise known as historical accounts of Brooklyn in the forms of literature and landmarks. The other three steps have informed my methodologies by reversing the moment of fact retrieval, the moment of fact assembly, and the moment of fact creation. In that order, I introduce GIS Mapping as a methodology that would encounter silence at the moment of fact retrieval (particularly in the the making of census data as a narrative), photography at the moment of fact assembly (particularly in the making of the archives), and virtual reality at the moment of creation (particularly in the making of the landscape as a primary source).

Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn attentively adheres to Hayden’s insight on creatively incorporating the entire urban landscape, including the modest buildings and not just monuments, and Trouillot’s guide on where silences enter historical production. These digital methodologies work together to deconstruct narrow historical production, literally unraveling silences at each moment of its entering.

It begins with Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, a visual system “designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial… data⁠10.” More specifically, GIS mapping helps frame Black Brooklyn from slavery to the arrival of the Barclays Center. Given its concept of having no restrictive boundaries, GIS mapping perfectly captures and preserves the haunting element of silence by providing a look into the migration patterns of the black community often forgotten due to a dearth of landmarks and literature that would have told their stories. It teases out silence as a relatively undervalued element of history, visualizing it through the emergence and disappearance of the black community over time. In the process of fact retrieval, I use variables such as race, slave and slaveholding status, free population, and total population available through the United States Census Bureau to develop these GIS maps. I also geo-reference [insert description] older maps onto the current day map to align census data of the past into sensible, visible information.

The photo series accompanying the GIS maps illustrates what Pierre Nora designates as sites of memory[ “repository of collective memory,” Realms of Memory 1

a subversion to traditional history making as history focuses on events and memory focuses on sites – SEARCH DOC FOR CITATION OF THIS. ]—former homes, places of worship, community centers, and businesses—of black Brooklyn residents, as well as some of the current sites threatened by displacement.⁠11 Majority of the older images are sourced from the archives of The Brooklyn Collection of the Brooklyn Public Library and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with knowledge that “memory has begun to keep records: delegating the responsibility to the archive, it deposits its signs as the snake deposits its shed skin.”⁠12 I involve community members to be present in these photos, as these sites of memories are not limited to physical institutions but rather the people that occupy and sustain them. As I encounter older images of the same places I photograph in the present, I have community members pose with an enlarged and framed image of the former structure or location to create an intergenerational framework. I recapture the haunting feeling of the shifting makeup of the community and the resounding silence of the black community. This preservation of memory sites tease out what Nora considers “archival memory,” relying entirely on the specificity of the trace and the materiality of the vestige⁠13.

Lastly, I use virtual reality, a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way. I superimpose graphics and videos depicting Black Brooklyn of the past onto its present landscape. For example, [insert example]. This method serve as a more 3-dimensional, immersive, and interactive element building off of the intergenerational style of the photographs. With a focus on the landscape, I address silence at its physical source while transforming it into the digital sphere. Culminating in virtual reality, for all of its merits in visceral reactions, my thesis will not only make the silence visual but also perceptible. Haunting if you may. Likewise, it provides the practical [noun] of engaging with Brooklyn while in a completely different location.

All three methods honor the silence yet provide a perceptible presence not offered by traditional accolades. They substantiate my claim that silence is a mechanism for understanding a lineage of blackness in Brooklyn. They pay homage to the millennial old silence by retaining inaudible elements, bottling up the haunting feel in chronological order. “The memory we see tears at us, yet it is no longer entirely ours… We feel a visceral attachment to that which made us what we are, yet at the same time we feel historically estranged from this legacy, which we must now coolly assess.”⁠14 They tease out silence as a relatively undervalued element of history and historical production, visualizing it through the emergence and disappearance of the black community over time. Unlike “single, preserved historic places,” these digital media are networks that “reconnect social memory on an urban scale” through undervalued primary sources⁠15 that reveal stories of blackness all over the borough. Lastly, they literally utilize silence at its entry into historical production—census data, archived images, and the literal landscape—which has effectively muted public memory of black presence.

Scalar, a digital platform, houses all three methodologies and the written component of Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn. With scattered observances of commemorative silences throughout, a symbolic act that disrupts time and concentrates memory⁠16, this website helps break the traditional mold of American achievement—grandiose and ubiquitous landmarks or memorials that commemorate one’s presence. Most importantly, Scalar supports the visual element of impermanence and transitions throughout the entire project. It even provides its own capabilities like a visual word web of vocabulary frequently used but not necessarily apart of daily language (ie. optional v. oppressive silence, material v. immaterial environment, private v. public works, materiality), this digital platform illustrates how these words are inextricably linked. Additionally, hyperlinks out to full screen of the digital sources provide opportunities for interactivity and full immersion with the trifurcated design of my thesis, while the reader friendly design aligns digital media nicely with accompanying descriptions. Ultimately[ Heuristic approaches], it holds the power to engage people who are the focus of my thesis—who may not readily provide the language of urban planning, social change, or legislative decisions (i.e. redlining, rezoning, white flight, upzoning, gentrification, Immigration Laws of 1965, etc.) when asked about the moving landscape of their neighborhoods. Simultaneously, those who have not visited Brooklyn, know it’s black history, or recognize its ever-shifting composition, can also bear witness to the lives that once inhabited the borough.

So I ask the question again. What does the liberation of our imagination currently molded by memorializing public works sound like, look like, or feel like? It sounds like rebellion and survival in the form of silence. It looks like a digital fusion that births a new understanding of black history in Brooklyn by unearthing silences from slavery well into the contemporary moment. It feels visceral and haunting⁠17. It reminds its participants of the historical peripheral existence of black people while insisting on centering their lives in public consciousness. It does not sound like the noise Europeans have traditionally created to overpower the contributions and memorializations of black people. To mimic this sound would perpetuate the disregard of silence in these communities. It does not mirror the physical forms of memorialization. To place them into the confines of these “memorials” would limit them to the memorializing practices that they have traditionally been left out of. It does not feel incomplete or exclusive. To reproduce those sensations would encourage a violent cycle of omitting critical details and deeming parts of history superior to others. And with clarity on what it is and what it is not, it reconstructs the vastly unique soundscape of Black Brooklyn.

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1 Alan Singer. “Brooklyn’s

African American History

Remains Largely Forgotten

and Unmarked.” News

site.The Huffington Post,

October 14, 2012.

2 Alan Singer. “Brooklyn’s

African American History

Remains Largely Forgotten

and Unmarked.” News

site.The Huffington Post,

October 14, 2012.

3 Alan Singer. “Brooklyn’s

African American History

Remains Largely Forgotten

and Unmarked.” News

site.The Huffington Post,

October 14, 2012.

4 Two Minutes of Silence: Social Technologies of Public Commemoration, 240

5 Two Minutes of Silence: Social Technologies of Public Commemoration, 234

6 Two Minutes of Silence: Social Technologies of Public Commemoration, 247

7 Two Minutes of Silence: Social Technologies of Public Commemoration, 248

8 The Power of Place 11

9 Silencing the Past 26

10 CITE

11 https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/2.6.html

12 Realms of Memory, 8

13 Realms of Memory, 8

14 Realms of Memory, 7

15 The Power of Place, 78; primary sources as opposed to ““secondary” sources—that is, material already produced as history.” (Silencing the Past, 54)

16 “disrupts time” and going from there to “concentrating memory” — ultimately seems to connect silence and memory.

Realms of Memory, 14

17 ““Haunting” denotes an evocation or experience of memory that is uncomfortable or unhappy, something bad that will not go away. But when one is faced with a bad memory, a funky, unruly memory, it is really just that, a bad memory. Now, if one were to experience someone else’s funk, then one would be haunted.” (Parham 2)