“How Did They Do That?” Latino/a Mobility Digital Pop-Up

Project Information

The growth of digital archives provides unprecedented access to a range of histories underrepresented in the United States. However, university collections often struggle to reach the populations they represent. Digital divides continue to pose significant barriers for communities of color, the working class, and rural residents. For instance, most university journal subscriptions still remain behind pay-walls and many multimedia websites become inaccessible when they require high-speed internet.[1] Built as a teaching exercise and research project, Latino/a Mobility Digital Pop-Up is a website and one-time multimedia installation designed to interpret, distribute, and share archival resources related to Latino/a history available at Yale University (Figure 1). Towards this aim, the project combined the web platform Scalar, social media, and digital projection to promote public engagement with university archives and research by undergraduate students.

 

Figure 1: Mural projected onto building at Yale University, designed by Fonzy Torro

Why We Needed it

Latino/a Mobility Digital Pop-Up interprets primary archival materials and encourages engagement with university resources through a website and a public launch event that featured digital projections, or a digital pop-up. Based on a series of student-designed digital projects, it provides new historical insights by taking text, visual, and oral sources previously viewed alone and bringing them together. While the website serves as a permanent host of this project, the open-air installation and efforts to generate social media content at the website’s kick-off served as an alternative means for engaging publics with low internet access. That is, by presenting the pop-up in a public venue and sharing images of the event through the shared hashtag, #CaLatino, the project sought to bridge digital divides that commonly prevent access to web content.[2] This open-air component was inspired by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s pop-up exhibit, Art Intersections.

In addition to the goal of increasing access to archives related to underrepresented histories, the project aimed to engage ethnic studies students in the production of new media resources. Information and communications technology scholars have found low-rates of web-content generated by students of color. Projects like this one integrate digital literacy training and exhibit design directly into the classroom. This exercise provides students of color and their allies the opportunity to produce new media objects and to recognize themselves as creators of historical knowledge with potential public impact. More so, when combined with civic engagement, digital assignments can be considered a “high impact” learning practice for first generation college students.[3]

What We Used

The pop-up required two stages of design. The web exhibit was built using a free publishing platform called Scalar. The exhibit content was then moved to a Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation for projection. This was a collaborative effort with involvement from students enrolled in Topics in California History, Information Technology staff, and the Yale subject librarian. We completed the project over a single semester.

The project’s goal was two-fold: to increase public access to Latino/a studies archives and to engage students in the process of creating revisionist histories. Key to this effort was designing the project as a public website and a commitment to using platforms and design tools that do not require payment. As a result, each “page” of the exhibit includes digital objects created with standard media tools, such as YouTube, iMovie, and Google Maps. For instance, one undergraduate researcher created an interactive Google Map that details the route of student demonstrators’ involved in the 1968 Chicano Blowouts (Figure 2). His map uses icons to identify places where organizers met prior to the protest and provides a brief description of each site that draws upon original letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings. The map was then embedded into Scalar to be viewed alongside other digital objects. Because Scalar allows for non-linear organization of its “pages,” each digital object can be easily curated into a collaborative exhibit featuring multiple student projects.

Figure 2: Digital Object mapping the East L.A. Blowout, designed by Joshua Mandell

In a public installation held in December of 2014, the Scalar exhibit was made available for viewing at a campus café located on a busy public intersection. Content was made available in two ways. First, the original web exhibit was displayed at an interactive computer station with a student host. Second, the individual digital objects were projected onto a plaza with open access. Located within street view, we used a high-powered projector and Microsoft PowerPoint to cast the images onto the Dean’s Office, a large gothic revival edifice located across from the café. Students provided a short introduction to each new digital object. Throughout, we announced the hashtag and solicited feedback to incorporate into the permanent website.

Why We Chose It

When choosing the web platform, my key considerations included ease of design; its ability to host multiple forms of media; the option to track multiple students’ contributions; and cost. I considered WordPress, Tumblr, and Scalar before settling on the latter.

WordPress, a user-friendly hosting program for creating websites and blogs, has proven itself as a favorite among educators. More so, my university at the time offered free access to the platform for course-use. However, the websites themselves have a limited shelf life and access is restricted to the campus community. While ideal for new users, the platform did not allow for the longevity and accessibility the class needed to reach a public audience.  

I next considered Tumblr, a short-form blog that allows users to post multimedia content. Already popular among college-aged youth, a notable shortcoming for our purposes was that Tumblr limits posts to a single media object. This restriction did not allow for the interactivity among sources we were seeking to highlight.  

I ultimately decided upon Scalar, a free open-source publishing platform sponsored by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. Scalars’ ability to support long-form writing, track individual contributions, and host media rich content, including direct upload from partner archival institutions, made it particularly fitting for classroom use. In a notable example, see a Scalar book designed by Dr. Anne Cong-Huyen’s class titled ‘Ethnic’ Los Angeles. Further, Scalar’s non-linear format allowed us to recombine individual “pages” to create collective “paths” geared towards different audiences, such as the general public and the university community.

Funding

The project did not require outside sources of funding. Our department provided food and drink at a cost of $200.

Skills and Resources

Technical skills: Scalar, Microsoft PowerPoint, iMovie, Storify, YouTube downloader, HTML (optional)
Competencies: Project management, research skills, and writing for a public audience
Infrastructure: Event space, projector, computer station, Wi-Fi capable devices for social media
Suggested Resources: Scalar tutorials; Scalar User’s Guide; Lesson Prompts,YouTube download tutorial; Creating a slideshow in iPhoto

 

[1] Gilbert, Melissa. “Theorizing Digital and Urban Inequalities: Critical Geographies of ‘race’, gender and technological capital,” Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 13 (No. 7, October 2010), 1000-1018

[2] Maeve Duggan and Joanna Brenner, “The Demographics of Social Media Users--2012.” Report of the Pew Research Center, Washington DC, February 14, 2013.

 

[3] Spiro, Lisa. “This is Why We Fight? Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. 2012. 16-35; Kuh, George D. 2008. “High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter.” Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.