Digital Chinatown: Description

Title: Digital Chinatown: Archives and the Mobile Web
Investigator: Daniel Kim ude.uyn|2kdd#ude.uyn|2kdd
Institutions: Asian/Pacific/American Institute, New York University and the Museum of Chinese in America

Historically, one of the oldest and most vibrant, continuously-present ethnic communities of New York City, Manhattan’s Chinatown now faces the threat of social and symbolic erasure. As the forces of gentrification and ‘business improvement’ projects continue to expand into the contemporary boundaries of Chinatown, the twin pressures of rapidly rising real estate prices and governmental interventions steadily encourage the exodus of longstanding Chinatown residents and the arrival of newer categories of residents. While this may be an inevitable outcome of larger political, economic and social dynamics, it is worth examining the role played by an absence of memory when it comes to the experiences and contributions of Chinese Americans to the social, cultural and economic life of New York City.

The proposed project seeks to explore the potential for bringing the history of Chinatown to the public in an engaging and accessible way. While important projects like the Museum of Chinese in America and the A/P/A Institute's Digital Heritage Project have made, and continue to make, important contributions toward communicating the history of Chinese Americans in New York City, there are limits to the reach of traditional modes of public history and archival management, particularly in an era characterized by an ever-increasing array of digital communication media that compete for the attention and interest of everyday individuals. In the spirit of practical problem-solving, however, it is hoped that some of these same digital technologies hold the potential for enriching and expanding the reach of historical materials. Specifically, I hope to create a web-based platform that is integrated with mobile technologies in order to provide a real-time, interactive experiences for students and other people interested in learning more about Chinatown's past.

As the largest national museum dedicated to the Chinese American experience, the Museum of Chinese in America has a large collection of archival materials - documents, artifacts, photographs, printed materials and the like - totaling more than 1200 linear feet in volume and spanning from about 1800 to the present date. This project seeks to make selective use of documents that will contribute to providing a rich, digital and mobile experience engaging with archival materials as they are brought together by space and time. To this end, the priority will be on finding documents that are linked by relational information such as a shared address or the name of an individual. Further enriched by geospatial data, clusters of documents and images will be mobilized into virtual and augmented space to created a real-time and real-space interactive learning experience.

In this way, this project will speak to much more than members of particular ethnic groups. By using new technologies to address the general problem of profound and profoundly consequential cultural amnesia, Digital Chinatown will not only point to emerging ways of integrating new technologies with archives. By bridging the past with the future, it will also speak to the possibility of agency in the face of systemic erasure and marginalization and suggest new directions for civic communication and participation.

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