Curating New Orleans: Historical Storytelling in a Mobile Age

Friday, January 4, 2013: 9:10 AM
Rhythms Ballroom 1 (Sheraton New Orleans)
Michael Mizell-Nelson, University of New Orleans
Mark Tebeau, Cleveland State University
According to Pew Research, mobile computing represents a paradigmatic shift in the digital age. More than half of all Americans use mobile tools in their daily lives; mobile has also become the primary way that most people worldwide connect to the Internet. This technological revolution challenges historians to develop new approaches to engaging public audiences. As part of a broader Mobile History Initiative, the mobile application New Orleans Historical seeks to recover the places, stories, and lives of New Orleans through a collaborative process of interpretive storytelling that both engages and builds historic communities.

The speakers will explore the particular ways that the New Orleans Historical team are digitizing the work of video documentary filmmakers and seeking to invest the broadcast documentary aesthetic into this new tool for connecting historians with the various publics. The work of New Orleans filmmakers since the 1960s advent of video technology has generated precious raw footage and edited productions, both of which are quickly disintegrating. Videotape allowed documentary filmmakers cheaper production costs to produce much more footage, but, as with digital materials, tape-stock is not nearly as long-lived as film.  Most of these documentary productions have already disappeared from public exhibition because they long ago "aged out" of broadcast television. In the era of High Definition television, delivering documentary segments to mobile devices offers audiences in the streets access to these older productions; it also allows scholars and community historians access to a seemingly lost reservoir of 20th century resources.

Additionally, the speakers will reach beyond New Orleans to explore how historians throughout North America are using mobile tools and working with local communities to develop new modes of storytelling, new types of partnerships, and rich collaborations that reconstruct a sense of place through historical research, oral history, and community engagement.

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