I'm writing to announce the public launch of a digital/public history project, Digitizing Rochester’s Religions, based at the University of Rochester. Supervised by Dr. Margarita S. Guillory (now at Boston University), the DRR project is intended to further our understanding of modern Rochester, New York’s religious history. We draw on the latest digital humanities technology to build on the example set by digital religion projects such as Sacred Gotham. Our website spotlights Rochester’s religious diversity after the end of the Burned-over District era (1800–1850), charting the city’s religious evolution from 1850 to the 2010s. We provide new historical essays written by University of Rochester undergraduate and graduate students, an archive of digitized primary sources from multiple Rochester religious sites, and supplementary materials intended for researchers and teachers.
As this is a pilot project, DRR does not tell the story of every religion or religious site present in Rochester. Instead, we focus on religious sites from the Nineteenth Ward, Corn Hill, and Plymouth Exchange (PlEx) neighborhoods, located in the city’s southwest quadrant.
The essays that comprise the core of DRR tell a story of initial prosperity, urban collapse, and tentative revival. Beginning in the 1960s, the loss of Rochester’s industrial base exacerbated the city’s patterns of racial and economic segregation. White flight intensified in southwestern Rochester. Religious organizations in economically distressed neighborhoods like the Nineteenth Ward worked to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of tax dollars and government assistance. By launching nonprofits, job training programs, soup kitchens, clinics, and other social services, religious groups in southwest Rochester tried to meet the physical and material as well as spiritual needs of residents.