Project Showcase: Hear, Here

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“Hear, Here” volunteer Jennifer DeRocher dials one of the toll-free numbers in downtown La Crosse. Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Hear, Here: Voices of Downtown La Crosse is an audio-documentary project that allows people to hear stories from the past in the exact location where they occurred. The project, which debuted in 2015, trades the traditional historical plaque for mobile phone technology. And it shifts the historical spotlight from famous individuals and events to the experiences of ordinary residents and anonymous spaces in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Hear, Here is the product of a collaboration between local residents, the major in Public and Policy History at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Department of History, and several state and local arts and community organizations. The project emulates the bottom-up tradition of oral history. But whereas those oral accounts often languish on dusty archive shelves, Hear, Here embeds them in the urban grid through a series of street-level signs that display toll-free telephone numbers.

Each sign provides a portal to a different story from La Crosse’s past, with special attention to people traditionally underrepresented in historical narratives. Hear, Here highlights stories from La Crosse’s homeless, LGBTQ, disabled, African American, Ho Chunk, and immigrant communities. By dialing the numbers you can engage with people’s personal stories–in their own voices. The narratives will hopefully generate public conversations about how various people have experienced the streets of La Crosse differently depending on their level of privilege and access to resources.

Hear, Here differs from other space-based projects that use QR codes and other forms of smart technology. The toll-free numbers allow anyone, including homeless people who participated in the project, to listen to the stories at no extra charge.  In this way the method, as well as the content, of accessing the stories is democratic and inclusive. The user-generated nature of the project is also unique. After listening to a story people can remain on the line and record their own stories about that space or another space in the downtown. If the story fits the objectives of Hear, Here, it is re-recorded and added to the project. As far as we know, this is the only toll-free-number-accessible, space-based, oral history project actively collecting stories in North America.

With thirty-seven signs up so far, and twenty-three more in the works, Hear, Here will continue to evolve over its planned five-year life span as community stakeholders collaborate to interpret their own history.

Hear, Here is the 2016 Wisconsin state winner of the American Association for State and Local History Award for Leadership in History. Follow the project on Facebook. For more information contact Hear, Here Executive Director Ariel Beaujot.

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