The pressure-​​cooker bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last April 15 shat­tered bodies and lives. But their impact was felt far beyond the blast radius as the shock spread and author­i­ties set out to find the per­pe­tra­tors. The ensuing man­hunt put an already trau­ma­tized city on lockdown.

One of the two sus­pects, Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, was cap­tured on April 19. The other, his brother Tamerlan, was killed.

Three days later, Eliz­a­beth Mad­dock Dillon found her­self talking about Boston’s ordeal with a group of grad­uate stu­dents at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, where she is a pro­fessor of Eng­lish. She is also a co-​​director of the university’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Net­works, a recently cre­ated center for dig­ital human­i­ties and com­pu­ta­tional social science.

Although her stu­dents had not been phys­i­cally harmed by the bombing, they all felt the shock of it. “One person had been woken up in the middle of the night by the car going by and one of the bombers throwing a bomb out the window,” Ms. Dillon says. “It was striking to me how much this event had affected people’s lives and how much every­body had a story they needed to tell in the after­math of the event.”

The answer, Ms. Dillon decided then, was to find a way for anyone to share his or her story. She and her col­leagues at the NULab cre­atedOur Marathon, an online com­mu­nity archive, and invited mem­bers of the public to con­tribute first-​​person accounts, pho­tographs, and videos describing how the bombing had affected them. “No story is too small for Our Marathon,” the site says, in what could be a mantra.

The Boston effort is the latest in a series of dig­ital com­mu­nity archives that have sprung up in the imme­diate wake of trau­matic events. Promi­nent exam­ples include the Sep­tember 11 Dig­ital Archive, devoted to the ter­rorist attacks of 2001, and the Hur­ri­cane Dig­ital Memory Bank, cre­ated after Hur­ri­canes Kat­rina and Rita, in 2005.

 

Read the article at Chronicle of Higher Education →