ATLmaps.org is on the vanguard of what has come to be known as “digital humanities.” Ours is a place of pride, though we must continually defend its use and value as both a public and academic tool. Despite recent debates that it was just a passing academic fad, the digital humanities–or rather, the digital in the humanities–is alive and well. For me, one of the most compelling intersections in digital humanities is GIS (geographic informational systems) and humanistic storytelling. Digital humanities is leading the way of using maps to show histories, experiences, and political and cultural changes through time and space. This methodology, of course, is not new: disenfranchised minority communities and scholars have long leveraged this approach to evince the systemic oppressions they endure as a way of advocating political change. W.E.B. DuBois, for example, hand-drew a map “Land Owned by Negroes in Georgia, U.S.A. 1870-1900”  for the Negro Exhibit of the American Section at the Paris Exposition Universelle (Paris World Fair) in 1900 to show the economic and social progress of African Americans since emancipation.

The mapping approach still works and is being used by the most innovative institutions today. (For example, the University of Richmond’s Visualizing Emancipation, the University of Iowa’s Placing Segregation, and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching in America.) These projects, like ATLmaps, are all open access, meaning their content and building tools are free to anyone to use in an overarching effort to promote universal access and transparency of information and learning.

What sets ATLmaps apart from these other digital projects, however, is its capacity for infinite projects to be built by stacking map layers to tell focused stories about the land, architecture, people, and history of the city of Atlanta. ATLmaps allows users to EXPLORE the archive of digitized maps and curated map layers, STACK and overlay those maps, and SAVE their map projects to share, embed, and promote in their own research, classrooms, and communities. Unlike other digital mapping projects, the user is in control of the map layers to stack together and therefore their projects can be imaginatively interdisciplinary in scope.

Consider, for example, the story that can be told when a map layer of eviction densities in Fulton county is stacked on race demographics of that area, which itself is stacked on Neighborhood Planning Unit maps from the 1970’s and Home Owners’ Land Corporation maps from 1933 that evaluated the economic fiscal stability of homes for federal loan dispersing (at which times Negro neighborhoods were cautioned as poor investments). A phenomenal project is rendered in which housing instability is proven to be conditioned to particular disenfranchised communities, inherited from near-century old reports that have been used to sway legislation and economic praxis.

This is just one example of the diverse storytelling power of ATLmaps. It leverages the legacy of the humanistic use of maps and democratizes its use as an open access archive and digital tool, but goes further by enabling interdisciplinary, transhistorical data to be layered and analyzed.  And it is this capacity that makes ATLmaps unique and unparalleled compared to other digital mapping projects. ATLmaps goes beyond a single time period, discipline, archive, or source to enable users to uncover the remarkable, often untold, facets of the city.

Frankly, digital humanities is more important now than ever. ATLmaps proves why.