Digital project unites Lehigh, Bethlehem history

Courtesy of the Lehigh University website

Courtesy of the Lehigh University website

Bethlehem’s past intertwines with its present through the interactive digital memory project Still Looking for You.

The project’s website features a variety of interactive tours that preserve memories contributed by Lehigh students, alumni and Bethlehem residents with images, text, videos and sounds by building a type of community archive. By connecting people through memories, the project bridges the gap between the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities.

With her desire to engage the local community in a broader way, Julia Maserjian, the digital scholarship project manager for Lehigh’s library and technology services, came up with the idea behind Still Looking for You. Maserjian recruited the help of Jessica Aberle and Annie Johnson, 2011-2013 and 2014-2016 Council on Library and Information Resources postdoctoral fellows, respectively, as well as Kimberley Carrell-Smith, a history professor of practice, and Scott Rotzmoser, a senior developer for Lehigh’s web and mobile services team, to make the project a reality.

Through a variety of interactive maps of Bethlehem, Still Looking for You encourages members of the community to share their stories by dropping a pin anywhere in Bethlehem. The pin, which saves the words and visual representations of one’s memory, is the vessel by which memories are shared. With the opportunity for contributing additional information to every location and pin, the website becomes a crowd-sourced platform.

Aberle was put in charge of creating the first tour through Lehigh itself, and the project has evolved since its inception in 2013. Johnson is responsible for the community outreach and redesign of the website to create a more user-friendly experience. Rotzmoser uses his technology background to organize the content and structure of the website and Content Manager Carrell-Smith and her students are responsible for The Lost Neighborhood tour.

“The longevity of the site is reliant on a community of contributors,” Maserjian said.

The Lost Neighborhood is a portion of the Bethlehem community that was taken over by Lehigh and the city to expand the university’s campus in the 1960s. Churches, schools and businesses were destroyed, forcing residents to leave the only life they knew.

“People still held on to this feeling that Lehigh was responsible for destroying their world in a sense,” Carrell-Smith said.

Carrell-Smith collaborated with the South Bethlehem Historical Society and hosted a story gathering event for the local community. The event gave residents an opportunity to talk about the past and share their memories. Through these memories, The Lost Neighborhood came to life.

“The Lost Neighborhood did give us an opportunity to heal this old wound because we respected their stories,” Maserjian said. “It helped mend some fences that we thought were irreparable, but they were not.”

Still Looking for You is a work in progress. The website is tasked with spreading the word for people to contribute. Additionally, the older generation of Bethlehem residents does not have the computer skills to understand how to contribute to the site. Because of this, Maserjian, Johnson and Carrell-Smith are planning another story gathering event this spring to make it easier for residents to share their memories.

“Even the people who had bitter memories said thank you,” Carrell-Smith said. “We finally healed something here. I think that’s what made it a really rich experience.”

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