Curating the City

January 16, 2010 by

Our ambition at the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities, and mine particularly as a digital scholar, is to “curate the city,” to organize it as a living museum exhibition, understood in the broadest terms. (My colleague Mark Souther and I have written an essay that we are about to submit on this question.) Most simply, this concept builds on the practices of urban and public historians working at universities, expanding it and making that role explicit and digital, but also using the model of a curator, as opposed to the scholar.

We have been exploring the process of doing this in a particular place–Cleveland.

In 2009, we debuted the Euclid Corridor Project, in which we explored the region’s history and identity through the lens of Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue.  The project created a “virtual” Euclid Avenue that runs parallel to the “real” Euclid Avenue; it is located on 22 touch-screen kiosks placed along Euclid Avenue.  Like our earlier project on the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, the notion is a crowdsourced interpretive approach to curating the city and its history. At the same time, we have been building Teaching & Learning Cleveland, working with teachers, students, and the community. We also have great digital resources in Cleveland, much of it associated with the excellent library of own home institution and its Cleveland Memory Project.

What I am interested in is discussion models of doing this work; sites like CityLore’s City of Memory and the City or the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s PhilaPlace.

So, I would propose a session of questions about the tensions inherent in this, as well as the digital possibilities and challenges, especially the tension of collecting verse interpreting. What are the “objects” that we are curating? What to collect, what to document, what to interpret? Also, what is the role of maps. What sorts of digital tools–especially open source tools are available? What are the costs/benefits of those? How do you capture the physicality of place and connect people to those landscapes? How to meld the work of different interest groups? Finally, what is the role of the map in the project, ala Hypercities, and the “Web 3.0, the birth of the geo-temporal human web.”

Or, not; let’s have a discussion predicated on our vision of what is involved as a digital curator of landscape.

About mtebeau: In 2008, THATCamp helped me remake and reimagine my scholarship as a digital humanist; have been involved) and have been involved ever since (helping host/organize THATCamp Columbus). I am back for more reinvention. <br. I've already invented a bio on the web ( and am engaged in multiple research, teaching, and learning projects. At the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities ( we've built Cleveland Historical (, a mobile app for curating cities (or museums or ...) through interpretive humanities narratives, which is an instance of our larger Mobile Historical project, an open-source tool for simultaneous mobile/web curation and digital storytelling. The cool thing about it is that Omeka functions as the underlying CMS, deployed into mobile environments and tricked out with new plug-ins, themes, and such. As well as all the issues related to curating cities, I am increasingly curious about the process of reinventing practice, theory, and the humanities for the digital age. More specifically, in the context of my research into cities, landscape, and place, I have become deeply curious and strangely inarticulate about how our digital work has shaped and reinvented the physical landscapes around us. Does the digital alter the experience of the landscape? As I curate a city am I contributing to its decline as an experience, a lived human place? In some sense, am I not doing something like Czech nationalists of the 19th century, inventing heroes, such as Zaboj and Slavoj, and memorializing them in stone in an attempt to recreate the social and political world? Am I not engaged in this same sort of endeavor when I talk of curating the city digitally--using the virtual to make the loss of the loss and degradation of the physical landscape seem somehow natural and tolerable? Reinvention is the work of the digital humanities in so many domains, and I want to continue that journey in the lovely informality of an unconference.

One Response to Curating the City

  1. THATCamp 2010 » Blog Archive on May 18, 2010 at 12:11 am

    […] databases, a few more inspirational examples include NYC Landmarks, PhilaPlace (also addressed in Mark Tebeau’s session from Columbus), and Digital Harlem. Admittedly the National Register has started digitizing and sharing images on […]

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