“It was probably the most digitally mediated natural disaster in U.S. history.”
A new digital archive at Rice University aims to prevent the loss of valuable Hurricane Harvey-related memories by preserving them within the university’s digital collections with professional precision.
The Harvey Memories Projectis one of several projects awarded funding by the Rice Houston Engagement and Recovery Effortlast year. The goal of the project is to build an open-access digital repository to collect, preserve and publish community-contributed memories of the storm in multiple formats, including photos of storm preparations and cleanup, audio and video recordings of the storm in progress, survivors’ narratives and even art.
“Everyone was on social media during Hurricane Harvey,” said Caleb McDaniel, associate professor of history and one of the eight Rice collaborators on the project. “It was probably the most digitally mediated natural disaster in U.S. history.” Time Magazine called the August 2017 hurricane the nation’s “first social media storm.”
But, said McDaniel, “digital memories can also be lost.” And so, inspired by such projects as the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (HDMB), which houses artifacts from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Boston Marathon bombing digital archive Our Marathon, the Harvey Memories Project was created.
There are over 25,000 items in the HDMB collection; accumulated photos and videos taken by Gulf Coast residents during Harvey easily reach that number. “You don’t want all that stuff to get lost and never preserved or archived in a way that future generations can access and learn from,” said McDaniel.
“We’re the stacks, there for people to explore in an unstructured way,” McDaniel said.
In addition to soliciting contributions from the entire Gulf Coast community -- anyone affected by Hurricane Harvey is invited to share their memories, not just Houstonians -- Spiro and the team are planning outreach events at local libraries and community centers to reach those whose stories have not yet been shared or heard.
In the meantime, the Harvey Memories Project is open for those who are in search of a place to tell their own tales. Many of those affected by the storm have only recently begun to get back on their feet, let alone process or preserve the memories of what happened when 30 trillion gallons of water fell along the Gulf Coast.
“We also hope that this will help people to heal,” Spiro said.
For more information about the Harvey Memories Project or to share your own digital memories, visit harveymemories.org.
Contributed by Rice University