Digitizing and Localizing Radical History
In the beginning, I indicated that one of my primary interest in research is investigating and understanding the dynamics of space as it is shared by individuals and groups who are connected and disconnected in a variety of ways. Specifically, I’m interested in they ways a digital intervention might organize and display various understandings of space as they compete with each other. At the current moment, the one area of inquiry that has my attention is activism within the Lansing and East Lansing communities. Whether it is organized labor fighting to resist “right-to-work” legislation or Students for a Democratic Society protesting the Vietnam War, the capital area has had a rich history of left-of-center activist movements.
Still, questions arise for me. How do we understand the rich history of activist movements in the capital area as they might relate to each other across time within the same spaces? In other words, how is it that activism as it is practiced in the present is connected to or divergent from the practices of other groups and individuals in the past? Furthermore, how has the meaning of certain cultural spaces (e.g. capital steps, the Hannah Administration Building, or the “Eastside” of Lansing) changed either across time or in the present as they are shared by a variety of people?
For this project, I decided to explore this idea by developing a digital project that would seek to answer these types of questions. In fact, the project should be considered more of a proof of concept that will serve as a pilot of a much larger piece in the future. I have decided to work with members of a community organization to build a digital repository that would house various materials developed by the organization throughout its history and explore members’ divergent understandings of activism as they scale from a single shared space to other spaces within the capital area, specifically the “Eastside.” The organization that I am working with is the NorthStar Center, which was a radical community space and events venue committed to social justice and building a culture of resistance. NorthStar closed its doors almost a year ago, but they have various organizing tools (e.g. pamphlets, newsletters, flyers, zines, etc.) that are sitting in boxes gathering dust. They have expressed that they would like to make these items available to a larger audience and create a living legacy of what the organization was in relation to the community.
At the moment, I am considering two platforms to build this repository. On the front-end I plan to build a website using WordPress. On the back-end I plan on setting up a repository using KORA from which material on the website will be pulled from. The website itself will contain documents and other artifacts currently in NorthStar’s collection. While each of the objects within the database will be accompanied by narrative texts on the website, I also plan on conducting/recording video interviews with collective members and affiliates that would help offer more context to the many artifacts in the repository.
Sustainability & Future Focus
The question of sustainability with this project is an important one. As I indicated above, I see the NorthStar project as being a small part of what can potentially be a larger project that documents and maps activist activity within the area across time. Therefore, it would be advantageous to work with an organization like the Allen neighborhood center after NorthStar, because these two have share the same space over the past decade and understand the space and activism in divergent ways. It is important to note that as other organizations are added to the project, the purpose here is not to create a sense of antimosity or devalue one way of performing activism in space from another. Instead, the project is gear toward being inclusive by demonstrating directly and indirectly how divergent activist practices and spaces are linking to each other in both realized and tacit ways. At some point, I imagine a geo-spatial component that is attached to the repository. This would be another way of documenting activist activities across time and space rendering a different way of visualizing the artifacts the repository.