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_Southeast Chicago Archive and Storytelling Project

A rich interactive living archive that serves as a community-led historical repository of South-East Chicago, telling stories through saved objects.

2021 Chris Boebel,Christine Walley,Jeff Soyk,Rod Sellers
EN Visit the project

The amazing collection of items in the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum offers an incredible window onto the complexity of working-class lives in the United States and how they’ve changed over time. Together, the items and the stories residents tell about them give us all a chance to reflect on aspects of the past that continue to trouble the present – oppressive working conditions, racial trauma, economic inequality, environmental degradation – as well as how people create meaningful lives even under harsh conditions.

Christine Walley, Author, to Docubase

The Southeast Chicago Archive and Storytelling Project (SECASP) is an online collaborative venture ten years in the making. It highlights a remarkable collection of objects gathered and preserved by residents of a former steel mill community as its industrial base was collapsing. These materials have all been donated to the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum by multiracial working-class residents who historically settled here.

Using the residents’ saved objects – and the stories told about them – the project brings to life everyday experiences of work, immigration, job loss, and environmental contamination from the residents’ point of view. And it does so through a Digital Archive and four mini-documentaries or “Storylines.”

The Digital Archive offers a window directly into the Museum’s collections that present the community’s history via donated materials. The thirteen “featured curations” on topics including “Black Experience in the Mills,” “Women at Work,” and “Union Life” offer valuable access points for viewers. Also, using a unique coupling of metadata from ArchivesSpace (the museum’s archiving and information management software) and WordPress, the Archive offers an easy search of the donated items. Many items also have “Backstories,” which provide deeper insight into their source and meaning within Southeast Chicago. At launch, the Digital Archive contained over 1,000 of the 10,000+ items found in the Museum. And it continues to expand.

The Storylines represent an immersive addition to the online archive genre and offer another way to explore the Museum’s collections. Visitors can explore these mini-interactive documentaries at their own pace. Upon entry, they are introduced to a single object evocative of a larger theme such as immigration, union history, or environmental pollution. A contemporary video depicts a current resident handling that object and discussing its meaning within Southeast Chicago, highlighting how history is a project of intergenerational storytelling. The Storyline weaves together photographs, videos, oral histories, historical text, and soundscapes to tell a larger story that creates connections and teases out the meaning from the memories and vivid emotions conveyed through Museum objects. In another unique feature, each item in the Storyline links directly back to the Digital Archive through a tab in the upper left-hand corner. Even amid a storyline, a visitor is never far from knowing an individual item’s place in the more extensive Museum collections.

The extensive website emerged as a collaboration between the project team, Museum Director Rod Sellers, museum volunteers, and the community residents.

Project at a Glance :

Language : EN
Country : United States
Year : 2021
Author : Chris Boebel,Christine Walley,Jeff Soyk,Rod Sellers
Producer : The Exit Zero Project,The Southeast Chicago Historical Museum
Team : Billy Wirasnik,Derek Potts,Paige Mazurek
Developers : Alissa Henderson,Jared Kerschner,Jeff Soyk,Krispin Dolbear
Designers : Jeff Soyk
Topics : Archive,Community Portrait,Deindustralization,Environmentalism,History,Immigration,Industralization,Unions
Technologies : ArchivesSpace API,Howler.js,HTML5,PHP,Wordpress
Techniques : Archival,Crowdsourcing,Data Visualization,Oral History
Awards & Nominations : 2022 Studs Terkel Award for Media and Journalism from the Working Class Studies Association
Funders AND Incubators : Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation,Illinois State Historical Records and Archives Board,MIT,MIT Open Documentary Lab,National Endowment for the Humanities
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