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MW18 Demonstration: Stories of the People, By the People, The Be Here: Main Street Project


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By Heather Shelton, MuseWeb Foundation and Robbie Davis, Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street program

At the core of this project is the belief that underserved communities and rarely seen places have just as much value as those that are frequently a part of the national narrative.

The MuseWeb Foundation and the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program have been working with partners across the country to build a network of crowdsourced stories about small-town America, as told by the people who live there, with the goal of getting to people think differently about what people and life are like in these towns while at the same time, encouraging others to understand and appreciate the abundant beauty, resources, history and traditions of rural and small communities across the United States.

The Be Here: Main Street project builds upon initiatives like Be Here: Baltimore, a MuseWeb project that uses storytelling workshops, existing free platforms, and small micro grants for content creators to blanket the city of Baltimore with more than 1,200 geo-tagged stories—told by the people of who live in the communities about which they share stories.

This approach to direct storytelling puts the power to create culture and determine the predominant narrative back in the hands of locals rather than letting those stories be told by outsiders–by Hollywood, by the mainstream media, by anyone whose predetermined notions of place can bias the final picture.

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MW18 Demonstration: Stories of the People, By the People, The Be Here: Main Street Project

  1. 1. Heather Shelton, Digital Curator MuseWeb Foundation @museumsAgo Stories of the People, By the People The Be Here: Main Street Initiative
  2. 2. For the last six years, the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program has been gathering stories about life in small-town America.
  3. 3. To date, about 1,200 have been gathered. They are . . . • Between 20 seconds and 5 minutes long • Not hard dates, facts, or traditional historical narratives • Snapshots of experiences and places • Related to Smithsonian traveling exhibits that are produced by Museum on Main Street • Food traditions • Journeys, immigration, and travel • Waterways • People’s jobs • Local and community sports history
  4. 4. Today, we have a multi-pronged (manual and automated) process of gathering, tagging, and publishing stories. Across multiple platforms. Social Media: In Our Dreams SoundCloud API: Next phase Smithsonian via API: Beta App/Roundware
  5. 5. Most stories are gathered using the Be Here Stories app (iOS), which allows people to record a story that is geolocated to their position.
  6. 6. Other stories are recorded using the web interface. are recorded using the web interface. Let’s record. Pick a story card.
  7. 7. These stories are captured in our Roundware (open source) database, where they are tagged and transcribed. *To improve efficiency, we have experimented with machine transcriptions (Dragon) but have found that human transcribers understand dialects and place names more readily. We often use for quick transcription services.
  8. 8. From there, all stories appear on a world map, tied to the locations where they were told. The stories appear live on the MuseWeb website without moderation. stories/map.html
  9. 9. After transcriptions and tagging the stories . . The stories are ready for publication/distribution on multiple platforms: The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street website SoundCloud Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
  10. 10. We have a beta version of an API to move the stories automatically from the Roundware database to the Museum on Main Street website. *Once in the website, stories will be moderated and approved for publication.
  11. 11. Select stories are shared on social media in a Friday storytelling feature. #bHereMainSt To date, these stories have garnered about 500,000 impressions on Twitter and around 5,000 engagements across platforms.
  12. 12. Tech goal: To automate the story publication process as much as possible, to increase the chances of long-term sustainability for the Smithsonian staff. Across multiple platforms. Social Media SoundCloud Smithsonian
  13. 13. Why are we involved in this project and in story sharing? • Communities involved come together around the story collection process, reinforcing the importance of local culture • Build trust among disparate groups • Open people’s mind to similarities between people of different groups • Bring people face to face • Make people think outside of themselves and their immediate families • To change the narrative about small-town America and help people from disparate communities understand each other.