Public History Project Proposal: Old Redford History

For this course, I will develop a digital public history site tentatively titled “Old Redford History.” Old Redford is a neighborhood in northwest Detroit that, like the rest of Detroit, has seen massive demographic, economic, and social changes since 1950. The site will have three components:

  • An exhibition describing the these changes within the broader context of Detroit and U.S. history
  • A list of open resources: websites, digital collections, etc.
  • User-contributed items that specifically relate to the history of Old Redford. These could be images, photographs, texts, oral histories, audio recordings, moving images, and possibly stories. Users will also be able to geographically locate these items when they upload them.

This project is primarily focused on this last component and takes its inspiration from other digital public history projects such as the Blackout History Project, the Bracero Archive, and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. Because residents and former residents of Old Redford are dispersed, this sort of project is the best way to collect and make searchable items that relate to Old Redford History. Although the Detroit Public Library and Wayne State University (and possibly other local colleges and universities) collect materials relating to the history of Detroit, none of these institutions focus specifically on this neighborhood. This makes a project such as this one an ideal way of collecting and allowing others to see and use these materials.

Although user-submitted materials will be the focus of the site, other materials from collections such as Wayne State University’s Virtual Motor City, the Internet Archive, Flickr Commons, and DPLA might be included. The site will link to these digital collections as well as those of the Detroit Public Library and Detroit Historical Society. This project seeks to explore how residents and former residents of Old Redford remember and understand their time and experiences in Old Redford? How do they make sense of those experiences within the broader context of Detroit history? Within the context of dominant narratives about Detroit history? Within the context of discussions about Detroit’s future? How do residents and former residents make sense of the neighborhood as it currently exists? These questions and this history are racialized, even if that racialization is often coded, and this site is interested in working with this tension.

The site will be created using Omeka and its suite of plug-ins (e.g. for user accounts, user contributions, mapping items). There is already an audience for this site, as there is a Facebook called “Growing Up in Old Redford,” members of which currently post photos (both their own and those from websites/digital collections). Members of this group tend to be middle-aged whites who moved out of Detroit before the 1990s, but there are also members who are younger, African American, and current residents of the neighborhood. These members, however, tend to be less active, so while the project will target active members of the current Facebook group, it will also seek to reach non- or low-participating members from these demographic groups. The list of resources is meant as supplemental information, and to make users aware of the sorts of digital collections silos that exist. The exhibition is meant to provide context for their own submissions and memories.

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