Digital History Review: Hear, Here

Hear, Here. Created and maintained by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. Reviewed Sep. 30, 2022–Oct. 27, 2022.

“Hear, Here” is a digital project born in 2014-2015 as part of the curriculum for the Public and Policy History Major class and the Photography Minor at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse.  Nowadays, this project is permanent, receiving sponsorship not only from UWL’s department of History and the College of Liberal Studies, but also from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, La Crosse City Vision Foundation, La Crosse Community Foundation, and Metre. Those who are mainly in charge of this project are: Ariel Beaujot, Executive Director of “Hear, Here” and professor of the History Dept. at UWL; Jenny DeRocher, Assistant Director of “Hear, Here” La Crosse and associate librarian at the La Crosse Public Library Archives; Marc Manke, Artistic Director/Lead Designer of “Hear, Here” and lecturer of Art and Graphic Design at UWL; and Sara Krueger and Hannah Siech as Webmasters. This project can be defined as a Digital Community since its purpose is to create a virtual space (web) in which members of La Crosse can share a collective experience of  their city’s history.

The project itself is based on the compilation of stories in audio format from community members, primarily from minority groups who live and/or work in downtown La Crosse. The themes of these stories vary from recollections of downtown buildings that may or may not still exist, childhood memories, community members’ experiences of racism, and different stories from business owners. In doing so, “Hear, Here” creates a digital archive or, more precisely, a digital narrative archive of community members. A fundamental aspect that needs to be highlighted is that each story is associated with a specific geographic point in the city. Accordingly, the exhibition is presented to the public through a canvas map – located at the top of the website– which has each coordinate marked with an icon (this map is, in fact, the first thing you see when you enter the page).

Regarding the map, it can be observed that it is relatively small and static, and furthermore, it is not possible to navigate through it. This is probably because the geographical area of the project is limited, and the aim is to prevent visitors from ending up seeing sites that have no relation to the project, such as the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Now, focusing on the icon that marks each geographical place, if one clicks on one of these points, a menu is displayed with a preview of the story and the player that allows you to listen to it. In case you want more information about that story, you can click “view the full story” to go to the story’s page [web example], with its player, a photo gallery, and a transcription of the audio to make the story accessible to everyone, thereby reflecting a desire to aim at a broad audience with different needs. 

Yet, the latter is not this project’s only gesture regarding community outreach. “Hear, Here” has a double life of sorts: the virtual one described above, and another one in our physical space. The latter expresses itself in that every story is also marked in the streets of downtown La Crosse with an attached telephone number, so that anybody can call and hear the story that corresponds to that place. 

How does the compilation of stories take place? Simply put, through their “submit your story” page, the process straightforwardly asks you to fill out a form, along with an explanation about the stories you hope to submit. In addition, anybody can send their story through the phone number available on street signs. Once again, this dual character of the exhibition allows for the potential participation of all community members. Regarding the conditions for submitting a story, I understand this project’s need to clarify what kind of stories are expected to be received. However, one of the phrases “Hear, Here” uses –”Think about why other people need to hear your story, and what listeners can get out of it that can change the way they see the city”– overlooks the problem that members of minority communities often struggle to acknowledge their own experiences as valid or worthy of being told, which can end up being counterproductive to the goals of the project itself.

Since its release, “Hear, Here” has collected 69 stories. This number seems small considering that the project has been active for 7 years. However, the curation process of each story displayed is precise. In fact, in more than one section of the page, it is explained that all stories received are evaluated, recorded, and then uploaded. This implies that, initially, all stories received must first be approved and recorded through an interview. These recordings are then edited to filter out violent or racist language, and to leave the interviewer out of the recording [only in some cases]. In this sense, each story undergoes a long process of evaluation and production before being available to the public. If one wants to know more details about this process, the “about” section leads to a WordPress that details the objectives and process behind curated recordings, as well as how to get the original recordings, and even the project’s sustainability. [doc]

Another feature of this Digital Exhibition is that on its website, there is a section called “curriculum,” which has different class projects for varying levels of schooling. In this sense, the web is no longer just an exhibition of the city’s history but also a curatorship that seeks to participate in different community spaces. In addition to the above, they have also created tourist routes with another digital project called Footsteps of La Crosse.

“Hear, Here” can be defined – like many projects in the Digital Humanities field– as a never-ending project. They do not have an established maximum quota for stories nor a possible end date. In this sense, to keep this website running, a large interdisciplinary work team is necessary.  This trait has allowed this project to create a clear work plan from its origin, which can potentially be applied to other communities that may want to recreate this project. From this initiative available on the web, three projects were born: “Hear, Here, Soho,” “Hear, Here, Great Talbot,” and “Hear, Here, The Village,” all sponsored by the Western University of London, Canada, and other institutions. Although this initiative has shown positive results, it is essential to remember that “Hear, Here” requires several sponsors and a permanent work team to stabilize over time. Hence, the possibilities of implementing this project in other communities depend exclusively on available funds.

To conclude, the “Hear, Here” digital project is complete and easy to navigate, as well as friendly for all types of audiences due to its content and accessibility through transcripts. It even goes beyond what you would expect from this type of project, like creating partnerships to create tours and school projects for La Crosse. The artistic design of the website is very original, which makes it easy to associate the color orange with the logo and the page. The fact that it is easy to navigate implies that the creation of the page was complex, and that they were thinking about their audience throughout the process. “Hear, Here” is a clear example of how proposals born in a classroom, with the right 

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