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.
MW18 Demonstration: Stories of the People, By the People, The Be Here: Main Street Project
Heather Shelton, Digital Curator
Stories of the People, By the People
The Be Here: Main Street Initiative
For the last six years, the Smithsonian’s
Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program has been
gathering stories about life in small-town America.
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
• People’s jobs
• Local and community sports history
Today, we have a
and automated) process
of gathering, tagging,
and publishing stories.
In Our Dreams
via API: Beta
Most stories are gathered
using the Be Here Stories
app (iOS), which allows
people to record a story that
is geolocated to their
Other stories are recorded using the web interface. are
recorded using the web interface.https://museweb.us/be-here-stories/speak.html
Let’s record. Pick a story card.
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
REV.com for quick transcription
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.
After transcriptions and tagging the stories . .
The stories are ready for
The Smithsonian’s Museum
on Main Street website
Social Media: Twitter,
Facebook, and Instagram
We have a beta version
of an API to move the stories
automatically from the
Roundware database to the
Museum on Main Street
*Once in the website, stories will
be moderated and approved for
Select stories are shared on
social media in a Friday
To date, these stories have garnered about
500,000 impressions on Twitter and around
5,000 engagements across platforms.
Tech goal: To automate the
story publication process as
much as possible, to increase
the chances of long-term
sustainability for the
Why are we
involved in this
project and in story
• 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
• Bring people face to face
• Make people think outside of themselves and their immediate
• To change the narrative about small-town America and help
people from disparate communities understand each other.