On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending Network Detroit, a conference that focused on how digital technologies “provide new tools to create, transform, and understand communities.” (To read some of the tweets from the event, click here.) Local and area professors, graduate students, and scholars gave presentations on topics ranging from digital cartography to social media to digital storytelling… and so much more.
THE SHOWPLACE OF AMERICA
Keynote speaker Mark Souther, a professor of history and the director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University, opened the conference by speaking about a project in Cleveland that began with collecting oral histories in the city’s Euclid Corridor, once known as the “The Showplace of America.” The project soon went digital with the goal of “[creating] a digital exhibition that would recover these well-known stories and also help reimagine the place and its connections to larger cities,” Souther said. Using CurateScape, they successfully created an app anyone can download from iTunes or Google Play.
Interestingly, however, he discovered more people were visiting Cleveland Historical’s website than downloading the app, and many people arrived by googling historical items related to Cleveland (the “river on fire” search was apparently a popular term that brought many Google users to the site) or via links on Twitter and Facebook, where he said Cleveland Historical receives the most social media interaction.
“We were mistaken when we thought they would download this app and use it to enhance their experiences when they’re downtown. … Those experiences make us feel very warm and fuzzy inside, but they don’t happen very often,” he said. “You don’t really see a lot of conversation starting to get going there. They spark and then they die out. People really want to be on their social media platforms instead.”
The lesson I took from that is to perhaps know your audience and their digital habits, though user behavior is often hard to predict.
COMMUNITY OF INCLUSION
Of the panels I attended (A and D), I found Sherry Tuffin’s presentation on “The Power of Digital Stories to Strengthen Communities in Universities” to be the most interesting and moving. Tuffin discussed how she and her students used digital storytelling, often in the form of videos, as a means to promote a culture of understanding and inclusion at Lawrence Technological University. It was downright inspirational.
“Everyone in this room has a story,” Tuffin said. (This is such a good sound byte that not only did I tweet it, but so did at least one other person.) Through projects like this, she continued, “we can introduce students to long-term change.”
Perhaps this struck a chord with me as a journalist – specifically a multimedia journalist. As a young journo fresh out of college, I began a series called “Meet Your Neighbor” on my Patch.com local news website. I profiled members of the community – a candy maker, a chiropractor, an optometrist, a music teacher, and more – and the response from the community I covered was immense and positive. Requests poured in for more, though I ended up leaving that position before I could see the project bloom.
WHAT I LEARNED
A week and a half ago, the term “Digital Humanities” didn’t mean much to me. And while I’m still unsure whether the “digital” part needs to be stated at this point, it’s clear that this field has a growing and increasingly important place in academia, just as it has in journalism. Equipping students with the technological knowledge and skills to be able to utilize all the tools available to them will continue to be an important part of the job of educators.