Stephen Robertson

Stephen Robertson

Stephen Robertson

Professor and Director, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media

digital history, history of sexuality, history of New York City, legal history

Stephen Robertson is a cultural and social historian of the twentieth-century United States. Since 2003, digital history has occupied a central place in his research, in the form of Digital Harlem, a site that integrates material from a diverse range of sources to produce maps that offer visualizations of the complexity of everyday life in the 1920s. The site formed part of a collaborative project involving three colleagues in the Department of History, and the Arts eResearch unit, at the University of Sydney. Digital Harlem won the American Historical Association’s inaugural Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History and the American Library Association’s ABC-CLIO Digital History Prize in 2010.

Robertson is the author of Crimes against Children: Sexual Violence and Legal Culture in New York City, 1880-1960, the first large-scale longitudinal analysis of sex crime prosecutions, which examines how changing understandings of age brought crimes against children to prominence and transformed American law and legal practice. More recently, he is the co-author of Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars, the first major study of numbers gambling, an enterprise central to African-American economic, social and cultural life in the 1920s and 1930s. Robertson has published articles and book chapters on sex crimes, modern childhood, everyday life in 1920s Harlem, and undercover investigation in journals such as Gender and History, the Journal of Social History, the Journal of Urban History, and the Journal of the History of Sexuality.

Robertson received his PhD from Rutgers University, and BA (Hons) degrees in English and History from the University of Otago in New Zealand. He held postdoctoral fellowships at the American Bar Foundation and in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. From 2000-2013 he was a member of the Department of History at the University of Sydney, Australia.

Current Research

Year of the Riot: Harlem, 1935

Disagreeable Detective Work: Private Investigation in the US from the Civil War to WW2

Selected Publications

Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars (with Shane White, Stephen Garton & Graham White) [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010]

Crimes Against Children: Sexual Violence and Legal Culture in New York City, 1880-1960 [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005]

Constrained but not contained: Patterns of everyday life and the limits of segregation in 1920s Harlem,” The Ghetto in Global History: 1500 to the Present, ed Wendy Z. Goldman and Joe William Trotter, Jr. (Routledge, 2017)

Searching for Anglo-American Digital Legal History,” Law and History Review 34, 4 (November 2016): 1047-69

The Differences between Digital Humanities and Digital History,” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, ed Matt Gold and Lauren Klein (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 289-307

Digital Mapping as a Research Tool: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930,” American Historical Review 121, 1 (February 2016): 156-166

“The Company’s Voice in the Workplace: Labor Spies, Propaganda and Personnel Management, 1918-1920,” Labor: Studies in the Working-Class History of the Americas 10, 3 (Fall 2013): 57-79

Harlem in Black and White: Mapping Race and Place in the 1920s,” Journal of Urban History 39, 5 (September 2013): 864-880 (with Shane White and Stephen Garton) 

Recent Presentations

2018: “Digital Humanities,” presented at the Law and Humanities Conference, Stanford Law School, May 18

2018: “Reimagining Black Urban Space in the 1920s and 1930s: Mapping Places, Events, and Networks with Digital Harlem,” keynote speaker, James A. Rawley Conference in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, March 9.

2018: “Arguing with Digital History: A Roundtable on Using Digital History to Make Arguments for Academic Audiences,” American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Washington DC, January 6.

2017: “Law & Disorder in Harlem: A Spatial Legal History of the 1935 Riot,” Columbia University Law School Digital History Workshop, New York City, November 1.

2017: “The Pinkertons and the Paperwork of Surveillance: Reporting Private Investigation in the US, 1855-1940,” Private Security & the State, University of Leeds, July 9-10.