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The Nuestra Iowa Project

This year, I am working on Nuestra Iowa, a collaborative digital exhibit about Iowa Latino History.  The exhibit features archival documents from the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA), and undergraduate student essays.  I plan to use this forum to explore questions that arise from within this project.  But first, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Nuestra Iowa.

Last year, while working at the IWA, I became aware of the rich and largely untold history of Latinos in the Midwest.  This was due to the influence of Janet Weaver, the Assistant Curator.  Ms. Weaver was instrumental in the IWA’s Mujeres Latinas project, an impressive undertaking to collect and preserve the history of Iowa Latinas and their families, and published an article about Mexican-American activism in Davenport, Iowa.  She shared many stories with me about Iowa Latinos, and I was able to see some of the Mujeres Latinas documents firsthand.

I began to wonder if there was a way to use new technologies to share the stories of Iowa Latinos.  Is it possible to digitally infuse physical spaces with historical meaning, without the assistance of physical monuments or plaques?  Can digital technologies change the ways in which Iowans understand the history of the spaces they inhabit?  To explore these questions, I teamed up with my talented colleague, Kelly Thompson. We created Nuestra Iowa, a digital exhibit of select items from Mujeres Latinas.  Using Google Maps API, we built a map-based interface that situates historical documents on Iowa’s landscape.  We were supported throughout this process by Haowei Hsieh, our professor, Kären Mason, Curator of the IWA, and Janet Weaver.  We were also continually inspired by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature app.

It was Prof. Hsieh’s idea to turn Nuestra Iowa into a tool for undergraduate education.  He recruited Omar Valerio-Jimenez to try out the project in his history class.  This semester, Prof. Valerio-Jimenez’s students are researching multimedia documents from Mujeres Latinas, and writing essays that will be uploaded to the digital exhibit.  We hope that the project will give students an opportunity to learn archival research, analysis of primary documents, writing for a public audience, and digital literacy.  They will also have the chance to share their work with the community and to uncover the often unexplored history of Iowa Latinos.

I will keep the HASTAC community posted as we develop this project, and work through the many issues and questions that are sure to arise. If you are interested in the history of Latinos in the Midwest, check out The Latino Midwest and related events, Oct 11-13 at the University of Iowa.

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