10 Years After Katrina, the Enduring Value of the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

Historians in the News
tags: Katrina, Hurricane, The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, HDMB

Ten years ago, we knew as historians that we couldn’t assess fully the social, cultural, economic, and political implications of the devastating hurricanes in the summer of 2005. We did know that previous natural disasters had profound consequences. The 1927 Mississippi River Flood, for example, further fueled African American migration to northern industrial cities, and paved the way for federal intervention in southern states during the New Deal. Documenting the reactions and memories of individuals affected by Katrina, and then Rita, along the Gulf Coast, took on an urgency soon after the storms hit.

Michael Mizell-Nelson, the late-public historian from the University of New Orleans, reached out to CHNM’s late-director Roy Rosenzweig to discuss the possibilities of creating a community-sourced digital project to document the aftermath and recovery of Hurricane Katrina. With so many residents relocating, collecting online gave anyone who had been displaced an opportunity to share their reflections and document their stories. This became even more important following Hurricane Rita three weeks later, when some Gulf Coast residents evacuated a second time, some never returning home.

The Center collaborated with the University of New Orleans to form a team that built and promoted the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank<hurricanearchive.org> (HDMB) in the fall of 2005. HDMB played an important role in documenting the stories of individuals, and offered a non-commercial digital space to collect photographs, audio diaries, or digital video that would be cared for as a digital collection. The team hoped that the process of telling one’s personal story could help in the healing process of individuals, families, and communities, while also expanding the voices documented and accessible in the historical record.

When we began collecting, we wanted HDMB to complement, not replicate other documentary efforts.

HDMB was designed in the tradition of the September 11 Digital Archive, and intentionally different than a traditional oral history project. An online collecting project offered some important advantages. First, we collected all of our materials in a single digital platform accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. All submissions were vetted and available within 48-36 hours. Second, we reached a wider audience by permitting contributions from anyone and at any time—this was especially important in documenting a storm that has dispersed Gulf residents across the United States. Third, contributors decided what they wanted to share and in what format: a personal reflection in the form of a poem, digital photographs, or emails. Fourth, an online project allowed us to reach more people, more economically. Finally, the materials collected were in a digital form, making this content data available for future computational analysis. ...

Read entire article at Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

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