A Small Revolution

“It was a small revolution: you could see something infiltrate the room – pride – as this person from the University talked about their history, their story.”

I was speaking with Lisa Mibach, from Deschenes, Quebec, once an independent town, then part of the city of Aylmer, and now part of the larger city of Gatineau. We were talking about her and her group’s efforts to document the heritage of this part of the city. It’s an anglophone sector of the city. If you look on the google map satellite image, you can see one of the most significant pieces of built heritage in the entire city of Gatineau – the former Deschenes Electric Company. When you cross on the Champlain Bridge, you can see this impressive ruin to the west. This plant electrified the town of Deschenes and Aylmer, and provided the power for the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (back when Ottawa had working light rail).

Lisa’s been working hard to document this community’s history; the story she told me was about one of the ‘heritage days’ that they’ve put on. This was where they had someone come in and look at their materials that they’d collected, and re-present them to the community.

Sometimes, the public historian or archaeologist’s most important job is to listen to the community, and tell them what he’s heard. In that way, it somehow becomes more ‘real’, more ‘important’, more worthy of study and serious consideration in the eyes of that self-same community. The act of observation changes that which is observed.

I’m entranced by this small community’s history, and hope to explore there more this summer, ideally as part of HeritageCrowd.org.

Names & Dopplegangers

Just got a phone call from a friend, who was interested in my opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, mentioned on the radio.

Problem is, I wrote no opinion piece. Turns out, there’s a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Ottawa (just down the Canal), who shares my name, and who is the author of the piece (it’s a good article). So, just to forestall any confusion:

Sean Graham at the University of Ottawa is not Shawn Graham at Carleton University.

HeritageCrowd.org: crowdsourcing cultural heritage

I have a small summer project running, using the Ushahidi and Omeka platforms for crowdsourcing local history, called HeritageCrowd. I have two Carleton University undergraduate students, Guy Massie and Nadine Feuerherm helping me with this; we’re blogging the experience here. Please check us out; comments & critiques (and submissions, of course!) are most welcome.

Guy writes,

This project, headed by Professor Shawn Graham and students Nadine Feuerherm and Guy Massie at Carleton University, rethinks the way that people share and interact with local history and heritage. Through the use of a number of technologies such as text messaging, voice mail, and the internet, we will test the possibility for creating a database of local history knowledge by asking for contributions from the community. This type of approach is known as “crowdsourcing,” and while it has been used to gather information about ongoing events such as the violence following the 2008 elections in Kenya, it has yet to be used in this way in the area of heritage and local history. The contributions made to the project will be stored and displayed on a website for the public. On our ‘stories‘ page, students and researchers can do further research on the items contributed by the public, creating exhibitions and other digital stories.

In the same way that the Memory Project is working to record the stories of veterans from the Second World War, we believe that there is an untapped resource in the historical knowledge of members from the community. The different ways of contributing to this project mean that anyone with telephone or internet access can share what they know about a place, event, building, or other topic related to local history. Our goal is to create an automated method of storing and digitally curating local heritage and history. In this way, our research hopes to benefit rural areas, and other regions of the world, that may otherwise face obstacles in attracting interest and attention about local history from the larger public.

This project is funded by a Junior Research Fellowship, and will make extensive use of the Omeka and Ushahidi web-based platforms. It will use the Upper Ottawa Valley as a “testing ground” for the project, and in particular the Pontiac MRC region in Western Quebec.