When approaching the History Moves data set for the second time, the necessity to share the women’s narratives with their own voices resonated. The Tell Me a Story project accomplishes this eloquently. Listening to the women speak through this portal was striking and created a very different sense experience than reading the interview transcripts had been earlier this semester. Inspired by this, I propose a geospatial public history project that draws upon the non-linear structure of this project and by the power of the women’s voices.
The information collected through this project proves that history is a flowing and moving force. The women speak about their families and relationships, treatments and physicians, over the course of decades. Throughout the interviews they reference parts of the cities and neighborhoods that they have traversed and lived within. Their stories are tied to these places. I propose a project that enables these women to share their stories about these places at these places. With the use of emerging augmented reality and geotagging technology we can share personal stories and transform them into public histories of both Brooklyn and Chicago.
I envision dual events in both Chicago and Brooklyn to kickstart this project. The date should be chosen mindfully—perhaps June 5, for HIV Long-Term Survivors Day, or March 10, which is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Participants from the Brooklyn and Chicago communities would paired with one woman who shared her story with History Moves. They would be given a minimalistic map of the neighborhood and spaces that shaped the life of the woman they will be learning from that day. The participant would embark on a journey around the city, alone or with others assigned to the same woman. Using WallaMe or a similar augmented reality app, the participant would travel through selected moments and places in the life of the woman they were paired with. When approaching a spot on their map, they would find a message through the AR app, directly from the woman, showing a snippet in this woman’s life and how she interacted with specific spots of her city. She would tell the story of this place. What happened here? How did it shape her? How might she have shaped it? And how might this place be symbolic of other places and experiences throughout her struggle as a HIV positive woman in Brooklyn or Chicago?
The message would come in the form of an audio story, sourced from the recorded interviews and additional interviews conducted to make this exhibition possible. While seeking out these specific spots, the participants would also be exploring the neighborhoods that the woman assigned to them has traveled, and walk the same streets as she has through her HIV journey.
The technology involved in this project means that this exhibit would have a lasting effect, unlike the physical structures of some exhibitions that must ultimately be removed. (There is, of course, the possibility that this application or AR technology in general is abandoned at some point, rendering the same fate for this exhibition.) The lasting nature of the exhibition would enable the public history project to continue past the date of the event. Those involved and actively seeking out these stories would visit a website to receive a map before embarking on a journey. Additionally, as augmented reality technology proliferates, if it proliferates, the History Moves site tags would be available to any member of the public using the app in the areas canvassed by the project. This outcome would make a truly linear sharing of the History Moves stories: perhaps passersby would be captivated by a tag with a Chicago woman telling her story of the street, or the park, or the pharmacy they currently inhabit, and this experience would change their mindset about the neighborhood and city they share. If the goal of augmented reality is to enable a blending of the real and virtual worlds, these layers of digital (in the medium of the women’s voices recorded and shared) would serve to further blend and spread the stories of these women into the streets they traveled and travel today.
This citywide storytelling exhibition of the History Moves women would be best hosted by an application that has more functionality than WallaMe at the current moment. The WallaMe app, while fascinating, is limited. It allows users to add pictures and drawings to tagged surfaces (“walls”), but this project requires audio embedding. It would also be integral that the tagged sites allow the creator to link to an external website—in this case, a website explaining the project to app users stumbling across the project who need context.