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Creating an interactive Digital Collection: The Unearthing Detroit Project

Creating an interactive Digital Collection: The Unearthing Detroit Project

Hello everyone. I know I am a little bit late to the Digital Collections party, but I was just finishing up my latest excavation at Roosevelt Park in Corktown, Detroit.  Many of you may know this area due to the massive industrial ruin that is the Michigan Central Station.  As a part of my Anthropology MA here at Wayne State University we conduct at least one semester in the field as a course requirement.  This was incredibly exciting because it led to the unearthing of thousands of artifacts to investigate and furthermore use in promoting the cultural heritage in the city. That last part brings me here! I am currently working as the senior student leader of Public Outreach on the Unearthing Detroit project.  We have an amazing team with a variety of talents that make this idea possible and supply the fuel to create this amazing research. This is definitely a team project.

Michigan Central Depot towered over our excavation site.


We are a collections-based research initiative that reanalyses the artifacts recovered around the city.  We have two principle collections: The Renaissance Center and Roosevelt Park. The Renaissance Center collection was recovered during salvage excavations during the construction of the Renaissance Center, or GM Building, in the 1970s. I believe it is one of the largest urban collections with over 30,000 artifacts at incredible levels of preservation. I could go on about these artifacts for a while, but would rather you guys be able to take a look for yourself.  SO IT BEGINS- My push to create an online interactive digital collection.


Ideally, I would like to produce a page on our website that hosts a map of the historic Detroit area. Visitors to the site would then be able to click on different areas of the map and see what was recovered from that spot.  We know a lot about the historic people in the area and would be able to connect the narratives to the artifacts.


The process, so far, has been to identify particular finds of interest as while as a baseline of ceramics from each area.  Each of these has been photographed and is at current being researched. All of this thanks to the lovely help of my colleague and future MA student, Adam Bender.


Next Steps

  • Research and caption all special finds

  • Create an webpage (I will rely heavily on my partner-in-crime and computer extraordinaire Mark Jazayeri for this bit)

  • Learning the intricacies of coding

  • Creating pages from the sectors/ artifacts and connecting the narratives


Perceived Challenges

  • How to make something that is more than a one stop site?

  • How can I measure engagement and feedback?

  • Will I have to map out different time periods?

  • How can I make sure to amplify the importance of preserving cultural heritage over looting to prevent site visitors to go “treasure hunting” in these areas and others like them?

I encourage anyone who has questions about artifacts, urban history, tiny pieces of ceramics or whatever floats their boat to contact me. I also encourage any advice from fellow scholars on the challenges I have ahead of me. I am extremely interested in everyones projects and I look forward to following along as I struggle with this new task! I guarantee I will be able to offer so fun anecdotes on my attempts at coding.



Hi Kaitlin,

Just wanted to say hi. I am really interested in your project. I think we have some overlapping concerns.

I am wondering if you can connect the enagagment with your website with social media? If you already have an enagaged public, people might follow you to your website and you can feed your web curation also to the social media. That is one idea.

Uff. The idea that people come to the sites of ruins is a difficult one for recovery of objects. I stuggled with that myself in the Anthracite Region. I am just did a series of photos that I hope will tell the story of deindustrialization in a different way than those who come for "ruin porn." I am sharing it at our press club next week in Philadelphia. I am hoping I can curate this problematic in this way as a resident, a scholar, and a media pracitioner. I am wondering what other options you have. Can you take some of your findings to public events to share them with the community? Maybe even take some examples of physical artifacts that tell the story of your site? 

Anyway, I will keep thinking about it. And thanks for following my work on the Anthracite page. Let's keep the conversation going. 


Best wishes, 



Hi Melissa!

I am sorry I never saw this! We do have a 'fairly' active social media front with twitter and facebook. Although, I will admit I should work harder on more frequent updating and connecting with broader audiences outside of public archaeology.

Currently, we have hosted in-lab visits, classroom visits, and outside lectures. We are lucky that Detroit has such an public interest in history (and ruins sigh). You are right though, even when we have active digs and open pits to foundations, people are more interested in taking a picture next to the ruin. In sharing our resources we are greatly concerned with people taking advantage of the information. One of our sites in particular has been a keen spot for metal detecting. This activity was further encouraged when it was the focus of a 'specific cable channel show about digging'. I could go on for many paragraphs on the wild divide between preservation of history and preservation of ruins. Everyone has a different meaning and interpretation they want to highlight. It is a fascinating topic. 

I am currently working on my update blog- as I set the artifact showcase live last week- I am a slacker with the updates since the planning of digital connections forum and the HASTAC conference. I need to spend more time on here!

Keep up the good work with the Anthracite page! You do an excellent job with consistant updates and new material. I will admit I am jealous of your approach! 

Keep in touch,