History Moves: Mobilizing Public Histories in Post-Digital Space

Matthew Wizinsky
University of Cincinnati

Jennifer Brier
University of Illinois at Chicago


Similar to most cultural forms today, history is collected, edited, manipulated, stored, displayed, distributed, and otherwise produced through a complex network of post-digital techniques and media. It is often produced only by historians. History Moves is a public history project that aims to produce cogent and collective historical experiences within the cultural frame of mutable and highly distributed media forms. It does this by bringing history, design, and historical subjects into conversation to shape public space. The project uses a participatory process that mobilizes people to interpret history by mobilizing digital and analogue media. History Moves transforms historical subjects into history-makers while simultaneously and repeatedly transfiguring media into forms that are engaging and accessible to widely distributed audiences. This article recounts a case study where History Moves worked with a group of women living with HIV/AIDS to present a history of the epidemic and a women’s history of Chicago. We suggest that the example provides a model for how to build participatory digital history projects and collaborative history displays.

Keywords: Public history; Participatory design; Digital humanities; Exhibitions

Matthew Wizinsky is Assistant Professor, School of Design, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, University of Cincinnati, 5470 Aronoff Center, Cincinnati, OH, United States 45221-0016. Email: matthew.wizinsky@uc.edu

Jennifer Brier, PhD, is Director and Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies/History, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, 601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago, IL, United States 60607. Email: jbrier@uic.edu .


Similar to most cultural forms today, history is collected, edited, manipulated, stored, displayed, distributed, and otherwise produced through a complex network of post-digital techniques and media. Since the “tendrils of digital technology have in some way touched everyone” (Cascone, 2000), all contemporary communications have been digitized or digitally affected, as have their audiences. Different media spaces have been digitally revolutionized at different times and speeds – for example, music’s digital revolution preceded that of books. While the term “post-digital” describes media that may or may not be produced or consumed digitally, digitization and digital culture directly affect their form, production, or logic. “In a post-digital age, the question of whether or not something is digital is no longer really important” (Ludovico, 2012, p. 162). Whether or not the output itself is digital may not be “important”; however, the making of collaborative productions in an age of ubiquitous digitality certainly presents both opportunities and consequences. Digital tools have opened up new collaborative techniques that have altered the experience of collecting, curating, and distributing historical materials. Meanwhile, whether the experience is analogue or digital, most audiences expect all cultural productions to be as engaging and interactive as the ephemeral short-form “bursts” that comprise contemporary information space. Yes, history too!

History Moves is a public history project that aims to create cogent and collective historical experiences within the cultural frame of mutable and highly distributed media forms. The project uses a participatory process that mobilizes people as much as it mobilizes the media it produces, transforming historical subjects into history-makers at the same time that it repeatedly transfigures media to create productions that are engaging and accessible to widely distributed audiences.

This article outlines our process, some techniques, and early learning experiences. We view our process, which is itself still (maybe always) transforming, as just one confrontation with the major challenges facing museums and archives, generally, and the limitations of many community-engaged humanities projects, specifically. By tracing the transformations of people and media through our multifaceted approach, we hope to uncover new opportunities for participatory humanities because of, and in spite of, the logics of post-digital media space.

Public history in a Snapchat landscape

Histories are inherently shaped by the perspectives of those who collect, distribute, and narrate them. While history is made by everyone, it is made relevant and powerful by those who interpret it publicly. Like Story Corps, perhaps the most well-known oral history project today, History Moves collects stories from ordinary people. However, History Moves goes beyond oral history collection and storytelling to engage citizen-historians in a more capacious and robust process of history production and interpretation, specifically through oscillations between material and digital cultures. The project produces cogent, collective, and complete (yet not closed) histories amid (yet not against) the short-form, transient, and hyper-individual narrative sensibilities of the Twitterverse.

This work is accomplished through collaboration between historians, media designers, and community members. In other words: academics, professionals, students, and laypeople working together to bolster each other’s mixed capacities for telling, showing, interpreting, and sharing. By applying humanist methods of inquiry – oral history interviews, analysis of visual culture, examining media, and design precedents – through post-digital techniques and workflows, we seek to understand the city as a site of dense, plural, layered, and multifaceted histories. These histories are often more complex than those that rise to the surface of typical historical analysis and more deeply contextualized than you would find in public discourse, via social or other short-form media. We mobilize historical subjects as historical agents, while simultaneously mobilizing the diverse cultural forms of history within and through post-digital space. Our goal is to democratize the full process – collection to curation to design to distribution – without compromising intellectual merit, narrative punch, or authentic personal voice.

This article attempts to transgress the contemporary narcissistic “cult of the story,” fuelled, as it is, by social media, to develop cogent collective histories that can be distributed within the logics of twenty-first century media. We can return to Ludovico’s (2012) quote that whether or not something is digital “does not matter.” This is true in the sense that even analogue outputs from our collaborative productions have been digitally “thought,” and operate under “logics” that are informed by always-on, socially generated or socially filtered, and/or site-specific networks. These logics are apparent even as they appear in traditional media forms such as books. In this sense, the Snapchat landscape is not competitive with public history, but it is the landscape of contemporary public history. However, the same digital tools and workflows that allow for asynchronous and remote methods of collaboration also suggest that “collaboration” can take place entirely in the ether. The production of analogue and physical media within our process insists on a physicality of the collaboration itself: actually sitting in a room, together with the historical subjects whose lives are being discussed, and passing around hard copies of a book to be edited together.

Despite the proliferation of public history methods, through nearly ubiquitous crowd-sourced multimedia and digital capture and production tools, the curated products made from community-engaged public history work often elude the very people who have donated their stories. Even as examples of personal oral history and genealogy production prove that people are eager and able to share their stories with others, public history institutions and academics interested in history, public or otherwise, have not generally figured out how to include ordinary people in the interpretation, curation, or design and distribution of those stories. By working collaboratively and iteratively across the lifespan of a project, we combine a body of collected inputs – sound, text, images – to produce multimedia archives and distributed public presentations in the form of books, films, websites, installations, and mobile exhibitions. This produces collective narratives with equal weight given to individual experiences and the structural inequalities that shape them. Through the suite of media outputs, these histories are made legible and relevant to audiences that are distributed socially, culturally, and spatially.

To truly integrate collective history-making with digital and experiential design, History Moves engages community members in a process of co-curation and co-production of a city’s history (in our case, Chicago). Our team of scholars and students asks: what happens when the logics of contemporary media design are used as filters through which we collect, interpret, and display community-based history? What, in particular, does this process mean for community engagement and diverse audience involvement? Is there a way to use the tactics1 of spatial and interactive design to create a system for effectively generating, curating, and presenting community-engaged public history? All are questions that have been central to conversations about the future of museums and archives.

This work is additionally situated within the tweeted, instagrammed, snapchatted, social media landscape in which the span of “history” in everyday life is understood through an infinite scroll of micro-events or time-delimited personal media experiences that evaporate in seconds.2 Amid this short-form cultural space – surrounded by expectations of GPS-enabled site-specificity; situated among everything-interactive and immersive cultural interfaces; in step with seemingly infinite data storage that promises endlessly additive archives; and, operating within a culture whose obsession with personal narratives has produced something of a cult of story-tellers – how might public historians and designers work in tandem with community groups to aggregate, integrate, contextualize, and present histories that are truly collaborative, thoughtful, and relevant … all while remaining competitively engaging?

Binding collaborations for unbound humanities

By necessity, this work must go beyond the boundaries of traditional institutions, beyond the boundaries of communities, beyond the boundaries between groups or between individuals, and beyond the boundaries of narrative forms. It appears that the true mobility our project seeks is only found at the fringe of our institutions, but is best served by leveraging the mostly intellectual and skill-based resources of our institutions. What is produced on the margins of overlapping organizational structures is then injected back into the mainstream work of our respective institutions, as it becomes a case study for interdisciplinary collaboration and community-engaged research, including new curricular opportunities. By making use of a participatory process with a diverse cast of participants, each project is fairly inefficient in its production, but touches many lives and domains before it finds an external audience. Amid the frustrations and bureaucracies of making things happen within large institutions, these personal relationships are critical for sustaining the project. For us, it all started with a handshake agreement between a graphic designer and historian to work together for a decade. Let us see what happens.

This collaboration requires tools that allow for multiuser co-authoring, editing, and version control. The project is now an inter-institutional endeavour between the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Cincinnati, making the need for asynchronous collaborative working tools all the more necessary. None of these tools are particularly new; however, we could not do this work without them.

With each new project, the History Moves team sets out to view the contemporary urban experience through the lens of a particular social issue. We do so by partnering with a community organization invested in and organized around that issue to collaborate on public historical work. Beyond digital archives alone, each iteration of the project seeks to build a mobile and modular public history exhibition. Critical to the project and its exhibitions is a physical definition of mobility. At a moment when the term “mobile” is almost always tied to smartphone devices and services and the term “interface” is typically shorthand for “human-computer interface,” the outputs of this project aim to transcend these expectations, to bring the tools of history-making to people where they are, and, in turn, bring the community-made history to people where they are. Mobilizing community members and participants in various community or activist groups to become history producers means providing the (digital) tools and (in-person) training to field researchers: conducting oral histories, archival research, and editing audio and visual content into compelling and contextualized narratives. Mobilizing the subsequently “produced” histories means taking the material (physical exhibitions and digital presentations) to the people, beyond the walls of any single museum, gallery, library, or other institution.

We begin by teaching people who are connected to a community organization or neighbourhood group to make use of a set of tools and processes that invites them to move from telling individual stories to thinking about historical connections and linkages. Through a series of workshops on how to interview with an eye to larger historical context, and listen and make connections with other participants, History Moves provides people with the technical equipment and capacity to record stories of their lives in tandem with one another, and in the process imagine, interpret, and map their collective pasts. A digital toolkit, devised for this project, consists of a suite of electronic tools and software for recording interviews, taking photos and uploading media to cloud-based services for storage, editing and sharing. To supplement and enliven the oral histories, participants are asked to share historical ephemera. Personal images are supplemented with images from historical research done after listening to and/or reading transcriptions of the interviews.

Mobility is central to the work both theoretically and pragmatically. Transforming humanities-based skills into actionable, collaborative activities suggests a leaving (or leaving behind) of the traditional site of the historical work. The digitization of audio, visual, and textual materials produces discrete units that become instantly extensible yet, far less relevant on their own. Meanwhile, the physical mobility of our exhibitions and analogue media present enormous logistical challenges yet, demand a physical presence. How to design for a physical presence whose scale, materiality, and content are all unknowns at the outset makes for an open-endedness that is both daunting and productive. These initial uncertainties lend added focus to considerations about both the nature and process of curating a mobile gallery space in the first place. In turn, this process informs how new modes of collection and display overlap in the highly iterative process of curation and design as a participatory process.

“I’m still surviving”

In 2014, the History Moves team worked with a diverse group of fourteen Chicago women living with HIV. Together, we set out to document the histories of these women living through the epidemic as a lens on the broader history of HIV/AIDS in Chicago. The majority of participating women were African American, some were in recovery, some were childless, others were mothers and grandmothers, some were lesbians, others were divorced or dating men. What brought them together was the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), the longest running National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded longitudinal study of women and HIV in the United States, now with nine active clinical sites across the country.

Following our collaborative model, our work together amplified the voices of these HIV-positive women and strengthened their sense of self and historical place in ways that surprised everyone. Because they interviewed one another, the women’s realization of similar and divergent experiences moved them beyond their individual stories and toward a larger history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in urban America. Patterns of racial segregations and social inequality were immediately and consistently made visible. This was critical to the function of a public history project at a time when the social aspects of this epidemic have been largely eclipsed by advancements in medical treatment. Our work recalibrates the discussion of HIV/AIDS toward the complex social/cultural/political issue it has always been. As one participating woman expressed, news media may tout that the disease is no longer be a death sentence, “but it’s a lot more complicated than that” (Brier & WIHS Chicago, 2015 p. 110).

Our interdisciplinary matrix of history/design/public health processes has proven effective in making participants feel seen and understood. Working on the project has empowered these women to communicate their history to audiences who would not ordinarily consider themselves connected to issues of social health, women, and HIV or racial inequality. By employing participatory design methods, women involved in the project are actively engaged in not just telling their stories but also giving them form. The women of WIHS act as their own content editors in the production of books, films, and exhibitions.

The word transformed, transfigured, distributed

“Cinema, the printed word, the human-computer interface: Each of these traditions has developed its own unique way of organizing information, presenting it to the user, correlating space and time, and structuring human experience in the process of accessing information.” (Manovich, 2002, p. 72)

What can be overlooked in all the complex, collaborative, and rigorous doing of this work is that the production and distribution of any media creates a unique physical and aesthetic experience. Decisions about what kinds of tools we use to conduct interviews, what media formats we present to the public, and the specific makeup of the group of people in the room – women participating in a massive clinical study, public health clinicians, student workers, faculty – all impact our (now collective) lived experiences. Therefore, how we translate each word or image to a distributed media form contributes to a specific structuring of the human experience. This is as true in the work of collecting, as it is in curating, designing, and displaying the aggregated history.

From media studies to software studies (from McLuhan to Manovich, perhaps), these “extensions” of humanity have become not only more numerous but dizzyingly mutable and reconfigurable. Now that we are in the full swing of the post-digital era, repeatability presents a constant and ongoing potential for transformations, transfigurations, and reconfigurations of the spoken word as it becomes a unit of digitized data: as a digital audio sample, a string of characters in a dataset, a typographic image, an array of samples of audiovisual information, or the manifestation of physical experience in an exhibition. But, this is not just data, of course. Those voices from the oral accounts, soaked through with emotion as they recount stunning tales of personal drama and tragedy, insist there is more to the story than the words. The oscillation between various digital and analogue media forms provided the critical space for the ongoing analysis of both the structural issues at stake, across different lives, and the gravity of each woman’s lived experience. In other words, close reading is not sacrificed.

Having conducted oral history interviews, we produced transcriptions of the audio files. We tested automated transcription services, but they did not work. The women participating in our project have many unique dialects, and some dialects diverge enough from proper (capital E) English to make a woman’s automated transcription illegible as her own words. The improperly “corrected” English simply did not read with the authority of the woman’s spoken word. We had the audio professionally transcribed, and with this large body of text as a starting point, we took our first step toward aggregating the material. We decided to make a book.

The book

Your project on post-digital cultural production started with a book? Yes. The book was not conceived as a significant output from the project, rather the book-making process was intended to offer a collaborative approach toward curating and giving form to the material. In fact, during internal conversations and dialogues with the women of WIHS, the book was described as a “MacGuffin” (Spoto, 1992): the Hitchcock term referring to a narrative device that advances the plot without having intrinsic value as an object itself. Yet, as an ancient but powerful media technology, the book is excellent at synthesizing diverse perspectives and media into a cohesive form. The book forces one to make spatial relationships and sequential decisions.

Scanning the textual material, a general narrative arc could be found across each woman’s account. Articulated in four “chapters,” the narrative arc provided a developmental sequence for all of the women’s narratives – regardless of the actual chronology of each woman’s lived experiences. This manoeuvre was a first step toward looking at connections that span personal stories and move toward a collective telling: “Early Life,” “Crisis,” “Diagnosis” and “Still Surviving.”

Working with the 14 participating women of WIHS, History Moves researchers solicited each woman to share photographs, documents, collages, or any other materials they felt visualized different periods of her life. Designers and students set up a scanning station in the WIHS clinic to digitize these materials and conduct additional interviews to understand their significance. The stories prompted by the women’s encounters with their own photographs, medical documents, and other objects of material culture were simply staggering. Paired with the women’s interviews, these images and their captions produce heartbreaking stories of loss and redemption, courage and cruelty, and incomparable tales of redemption, determination, and spirit. Ultimately, these overlapping personal narratives articulate a collage of all forms of social inequities and injustices; it is a mosaic of recent and contemporary urban life.

During this process, History Moves researchers located, printed, and shared historical images of some of the places mentioned in the women’s narratives. For example: a 1960s photograph of the Arthur J. Audy Home, a detention facility for school-age girls. A 1970s photograph of a parade in Chicago’s Englewood neighbourhood, picturing the prominent and vibrant African-American community just prior to the complete divestment that lead to its current status as one of the city’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. These images visibly invigorated the women’s memories by transporting them in time and space. This doubly encouraged the women to dig deeper into their own archives, and many more images and documents showed up in our next meeting. Within the pages of the book, these images provided a spatial and contextual backdrop for the personal narratives to unfold.

Figure 1

Among the materials collected and digitized, one stood out immediately: the orange cards (see Figure 1). During an early meeting with the women to discuss our collaboration and process, one woman produced a small orange plastic card the size of a business card. This card was issued to all patients at Cook County Hospital in Chicago as means of entry to the clinic, proof of identification, and for access to health services and treatment. “This was my passport,” one woman later claimed. Almost every woman at the table produced her old and often tattered orange card from her purse or pocket. These cards are institutional orange – the same colour as a prison jumpsuit. This card was the starting point of a visual language for all of our designed materials. The orange color was joined by redaction marks ubiquitous on medical documents, signalling anonymity among the participants, and a “plus” sign, indicating both HIV-positive status and the surprising turn of positivity in most of the women’s narratives.

It was clear that translating these women’s words into a printed and bound book represented a significant transition. Some of these women are functionally illiterate, yet their words were now produced in print – in a book – with all the gravitas that entails. Throughout the book, quotes are identified with typographic symbols rather than names. This encoding system maintains anonymity for individual women while building a history of HIV/AIDS through the conversation that develops across narratives. Readers are invited to focus on the patterns – asynchronous as they may be – that illustrate structural issues of social inequality and discriminatory techniques without diluting the specific flavour of individual testimonies (see Figure 2).

figure 2

Early drafts of the book were distributed to the contributing authors so that each woman could edit, amend, and otherwise co-produce her own contribution. In this way, what started as a MacGuffin became a Rosetta Stone. The interwoven personal stories of 14 women, animated and punctuated by their images and documents, produces a rich oral and visual journey through several decades in the recent history of Chicago. The historian’s job of making context from the material was reduced to writing two very brief essays to stitch together a few of the larger themes (Brier & WIHS Chicago, 2015).

The Film

Next, we next produced a short film. The purpose of the film was to again transform the women’s images and texts, this time into a singular and linear structure of cinematic logic, while making the women’s voices prominent in the telling. Here, each woman’s specific dialect could be heard deploying, in her own cadence and loaded with her own emotions, the stories told typographically in the book. The conscious decision to eschew “talking head” video interviews focused this production on the power of the voice. In some instances, a woman’s words had such impact it was decided to reinforce those words with a typographic rendering on screen. Other moments demanded additional drama: a fade to black left the audio trailing over a blank to allow the woman’s words to resonate. The affective power of the voice, specifically, an oral history account in first person, was the primary driver of these design decisions.

In the transfiguration from book to cinematic form, the language works in various ways to author, humanize, and provide affect to the story. The composition of clearly different voices, telling different stories within the sequential logic of a film further concretized the aggregation of narratives into a continuous – yet asynchronous – composite. This is not about a single life but about diverse yet overlapping lived experiences, recounted conversationally.

The Exhibition

During the fall semester of 2015, a studio of undergraduate design students at the University of Cincinnati made the final and analogue transformation of the oral history project, translating all of the previously collected materials, along with new research of their own, into a mobile exhibition (see Figure 3).3 The open-ness of that term denoted the crux of the challenge: how to imagine what a contemporary sense of mobility could mean for a physical exhibition and what relationship that sense of mobility has to digital experiences.

Students used the book and film as starting points to begin their own research into the complex and shifting web of social, cultural, political, economic, and medical issues related to HIV/AIDS over the past 30 years. Having identified a few key topical interests, student teams were tasked with conducting primary research in the form of expert interviews, peer discussions, surveys, and conversational forums. The issues the students investigated through these design research techniques included racial segregation, poverty and addiction, and housing discrimination. As budding designers, they also sought out information on the role graphic designers and artists played in HIV/AIDS-related social activism, and how that work has affected their chosen discipline and profession.

The goal of this research was for the students to not only create their own perspective on the network of topics but also to find and understand an audience for their work, with a particular focus on making this material relevant to their own peers. They were asking other twentysomethings what makes for a compelling and engaging informal learning experience today. Not surprisingly, the logics of social media and GPS-enabled mobile applications played heavily into these undergraduate students’ expectations. What was surprising was their ability to translate these digitally mobile logics into analogue, printed, and painted exhibition interfaces.

Interactivity in the exhibition was delivered in several analogue forms. Extending notions of anonymity and the blending of voices from the book, the orange card was deployed as a role-playing device in the exhibition. Each visitor picks up an orange card at entry, and each card is marked with one of the 14 encoded typographic symbols. Unwittingly, the visitor is aligning with one woman’s personal narrative by paying slightly heightened attention to texts in the exhibition marked with this symbol. Near the end of the exhibition, each woman’s complete narrative is recollected, and the symbol system is decoded. Meanwhile, visitor input is solicited in a space that asks two different questions with fixed parameters to categorize responses. Providing colour-coded stickers and thematic columns for placing responses, the system allows visitor input in a 3-D matrix. This approach clearly builds on the logic of Web technologies – akin to an anonymous group exchange with a built-in tagging system.

Inherent in a mobile exhibition is its unique ability to regularly transform itself to always be site specific. Borrowing the logic of GPS-enabled site specificity available in most smartphone applications, this exhibition also knows where you are (by virtue of being there, wherever there is) and uses location to offer you site-specific information. Within a section of analogue approaches to data visualizations, students produced an easily modifiable system of maps articulating quantities and rates of HIV-infections nationally and then within the state and city where the exhibit is currently displayed. This location-specific sensibility makes it possible for the exhibition to highlight those neighbourhoods in your city that are dealing with large or dense populations of HIV-positive persons, in hopes of putting local awareness and pressure on the attendant social issues.

Taken together, these diverse media objects bear witness to patterns of injustice and social inequity as much as they do the staggering courage, will, and determination of the women who have survived them. While the process focused on transforming and transmitting the spoken words of 14 Chicago women, the production of a mobile exhibition applies social media and post-digital logic to a physical experience.

Perhaps most important: video conferencing made it possible for the students to present their exhibition concepts directly, although remotely, to the women of WIHS. This ensured the women were collaborators throughout the process of translating their stories into public productions. Meanwhile, these conversations provided critical first-hand feedback for the students to advance their work. While design students are regularly engaged in the activities of presentation and critique, these particular conversations took on a very different flavour. Extremely high levels of personal investment were made on both sides, and the stakes were built up on that certain kind of trust and honesty required to do truly collaborative work.

Keep moving 

Almost all cultural forms today are produced directly within digital media spaces. Voices, images, texts, audio, video, along with myriad forms of spatial data and metadata, are digitally captured, quoted, cited, liked, shared, retweeted, and distributed across the globe ad nauseum. Meanwhile, the personal or private histories of many communities and individuals, including those kept intentionally hidden or anonymous, may still unfold through traditional methods, including oral history. Our process transforms historical subjects into history-makers by activating community groups to transform their own oral histories into contextualized and cohesive histories. Through a process that oscillates between various media forms, even traditional methods of inquiry find expression through the complex and networked web of post-digital production.

Like any community-engaged project, the tools and techniques are meaningless without first establishing the trust of all participants. This requires a deep commitment to an equitable exchange across the lifespan of the project. Going beyond simply crowd-sourcing cultural materials from community groups and isolating the functions of giving context and form to these materials, we hope to empower and ignite our collaborators at all stages. While these “soft” tactics are difficult to strategize, and may be impossible to quantify, they form the prerequisite foundation of the work.

Critical questions have come up, specifically regarding a lack of assessment mechanisms. It is true that we have, thus far, placed limited metrics on the work. However, the value of assessment should probably be less geared toward the project’s impact on a viewing audience and more focused on the impact the project has on those directly involved in it: the vast cast of project participants, community organizers and activists and faculty, researchers and student labourers from a wide range of disciplines. Having recently concluded the implementation of the WIHS exhibition, cursory plans are taking form to assess the impact of the project specifically on the participating women from WIHS and the University of Cincinnati students who designed the exhibition.

An unexpected challenge from our WIHS collaboration arose when the book took on more significance than anticipated. Our MacGuffin became an object of desire. With many requests for copies and access to the book, we are now confronting all the questions and challenges of contemporary publishing: Should we make e-Books? Should we set up print-on-demands services? How to distribute? Without intending to become publishers, we now face the same questions as any post-digital publishing interest (Ludovico, 2012).

Funding a project like this can be difficult. Fortunately, we have found success in fragmenting the project into small but productive and actionable segments of work that do not interrupt the broader objectives. For example: several small grants were used to fund the work of prototyping, testing, and ultimately producing the digital toolkits used to activate the collection process. It is a discrete yet critical step within a much bigger context and, once accomplished, fits into the larger workflow. Now that the project has advanced to a stage where the tools, processes, and many organizational commitments are in place, we are seeking greater support to sustain the project for several years to come. Beyond operations alone, this will allow us to develop new interdisciplinary and inter-institutional courses at the intersection of history and design, and quite possibly, include the domains of our community partners – for example, public health.

Most important to the sustainability of the project is that the work is actually satisfying to its primary investigators. What started as a somewhat far-out curatorial idea – a humanities gallery on wheels! – has now found a public historian and designer doing something truly exciting for their respective disciplines, building friendships, finding mentorship in each other, and genuinely enjoying their work.


History Moves is, at its core, a collaboration. The team is lead by Jennifer Brier, Project Director and its lead designer is Matthew Wizinsky. Catherine Jett and Marie Rowley both provided invaluable research assistance. At the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), Chicago site we worked with Mardge Cohen, M.D., Principal Investigator; Kathleen Weber, Project Director, Ellen Almirol, Assistant Project Director, and 14 women (listed here by first name only for purposes of anonymity): Bobbie, Cordelia, Debra, Delores, Katherine, Mae, Marta, Mary B., Mary C., Marilyn, Racheal, Rosemary, Sherri, Miss Sweet Pea.


  1. “I call a ‘tactic’ … a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other. A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances.” (de Certeau & Rendall, 1984, p. xix)
  2. The ‘now’ of the present is a duration lasting .3 sec; and (contrary to the informational computational model of the brain) it is not a steady string of temporal quanta like a ticking clock, but rather a ‘horizon of integration.’” (Tim Lenoir, Foreword to Hansen, 2004, p. xxv).
  3. Designing Public History (GRCD3010: Design Methodology I). In this junior-level design studio at the University of Cincinnati, students translate the research materials produced by the collaboration between History Moves and WIHS Chicago into a mobile exhibition.


History Moves, http://historymoves.org/

Women’s Interagency HIV Study, https://statepi.jhsph.edu/wihs/wordpress/

Designing Public History (GRCD3010: Design Methodology I), http://studiojunglecat.com/teaching/GRCD3010-f15/syllabus


Brier, Jennifer, & WIHS Chicago. (2015). I’m still surviving: An oral history of the Women’s Interagency HIV Study in Chicago. [A collaborative public history document co-produced by the women of WIHS Chicago and History Moves. Self-published].

Cascone, Kim. (2000). The aesthetics of failure: “Post-digital” tendencies in contemporary computer music. Computer Music Journal, 24 (4), 12–18.

Certeau, Michel De., & Rendall, Steven. (1984). The practice of everyday life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hansen, Mark. (2004). New Philosophy for New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

History Moves. (2016). In plain sight. URL: http://historymoves.org/inplainsight/ [September 8, 2016].

Ludovico, Alessandro. (2012). Post-digital print: The mutation of publishing since 1894. Eindhoven, NL: Onomatopee.

Manovich, Lev. (2002). The language of new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

McLuhan, Marshall. (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Spoto, Donald. (1992). The art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty years of his motion pictures.

CISP Press
Scholarly and Research Communication

Volume 7, Issue 2, Article ID 0201248, 13 pages
Journal URL: www.src-online.ca

Received May 31, 2016, Accepted July 8, 2016, Published November 8, 2016

Wizinsky, Matthew, & Brier, Jennifer.(2016). History Moves: Mobilizing Public Histories in Post-Digital Space. Scholarly and Research Communication, 7(2): 0201248, 13 pp.

© 2016 Matthew Wizinsky & Jennifer Brier. This Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ca), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.