Animating Community Stories / Connecting with Local Resources

December 31, 2009 by

I just finished teaching a course as an Artist in Residence at the University of Dayton that offered an interdisciplinary approach to uncovering the history of  the UD Student Neighborhood, an area that was developed to be NCR worker housing in the early 1900’s.  The course was titled the Archaeology of a Neighborhood, and was designed to integrate arts into a S.E.E. program (Sustainability, Energy, and Environment) offering.      For the environmental component of the course, we looked at the environmental infrastructure of the area, and at UD’s connection and responsibilities to regional and global communities.

I am a documentary photographer, and have been learning how to create projects that have an audio component.    What I offered in the course was a look at the particular history of the neighborhood, and technical skills to create documentary images, research existing archives, record interviews with former residents using student laptops and reasonable quality microphones, edit audio in Audacity, and construct five to eight minute stories using Sound Slides.   Students came from a diverse range of academic backgrounds, including engineering, sociology, visual arts, and biology.  Most students in the class had a surprisingly easy facility in learning editing programs and constructing compelling projects.   In the process of designing and participating in this course, I learned about Dayton’s early history of innovation and invention, the very rich archives that exist at the U of Dayton and Dayton History, Inc. that includes the NCR archives, and got to hear the stories of multiple generations of people who lived in a particular place.

These tools are powerful.  Every community has a history to uncover, ideas to research, and stories to tell.  I am looking for creative ideas about discovering networks, access to funding, and collaborators, to continue this work in other places.

4 Responses to Animating Community Stories / Connecting with Local Resources

  1. Lewis Ulman on January 1, 2010 at 9:41 am

    I am delighted to hear that you will be talking about this course! I will be teaching a course this winter (January – March) in which students will collect community literacy narratives in the University District east of The Ohio State University, and a colleague will be teaching a similar course focused on Columbus’s Near East Side. We will connect the projects to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN – In the spring, a colleague and I will be teaching an Environmental Citizenship course in which students will conduct fieldwork in the Olentangy River watershed, focusing on the neighborhoods along the 2.5-mile corridor shared with OSU. I look forward to hearing how you have combined oral history, digital media composing, and environmental citizenship!

  2. Marjorie McLellan on January 11, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    It was great to see the student exhibit resulting from your course this past week at the University of Dayton. These projects that link community of place and documentary may also have the potential to engage the people in the community as the authors of their own documentaries and as a strategy for giving people more voice in decisions that impact on their communities.

  3. Brooke Bryan on January 13, 2010 at 1:45 am

    My work began in a class of Dennie’s (“Community Journalism: Photography and Oral History”) some short time ago. At that time, I had been using wordpress to power an all-volunteer community engagement project in the Dayton area, and I was also reading (in a different class) Frederick Engel’s “The Condition of the Working Class in England.” This period marked a turning point in my thinking about what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, and why.

    To quote Engels, as he laments learning from documents and records alone: “I have not been satisfied with this, I wanted to see you in your own homes, to observe you in your every-day life, to chat with you on your condition and your grievances, to witness your struggles against the social and political power of your oppressors. I have done so: I forsook the company and the dinner parties, the port-wine and champagne of the middle classes, and devoted my leisure-hours almost exclusively to the intercourse with plain Working Men; I am both glad and proud of having done so.”

    Well, that was 1845, England. Looking back, it is arguable exactly how many dinner parties Engels excused himself from, but the point is that, in 2009, we find ourselves in a different sort of revolution. Yet the questions we ask and the answers we seek (both as citizens and as scholars) remain essentially the same through the ages, methinks. I guess I don’t have to convince the choir that this kind of community-based work is important, or what may be gleaned by it.

    Since working with Dennie, I have had occasion to consult with multiple organizations (from a group of community gardeners to a local government) that are interested in using digital media to tell the stories of their communities, to document their struggles and their successes, and to enhance their ability to stimulate dialogue and affect change.

    The problems I have encountered are significant: a lack of shared terminology regarding digital tools and content management systems, misconceptions of legalities, liabilities, funding, and the time required to generate content and engage dialogue. And building collaboration between organizations becomes more complicated under these circumstances.

    In my own work, which I attempted to carry forward as a personal project after graduation, I have encountered other sorts of issues: questions of ethics, concerns about images of people and representation in the digital age, and legal questions. And then there’s the need to consider a succession plan for the content generated, which really leads back to the first set of issues: If local community organizations can be imagined to be decent repositories for local community projects, don’t we need to share a vocabulary, at the very least?

    Before I suggest we create a #thatcamp nation document to shore up all these basics (not sure Engles would approve), let me just say I’m looking forward to hearing the classes you teach, and seeing your student’s work. Here’s to keeping our feet on the ground in the effort to document and understand people, place, and community.

  4. Dennie Eagleso on January 13, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    To Lewis, Marjorie, and Brooke,
    Thanks for your comments and interest. I look forward to our exchange which will be happening very soon, at this point.

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