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Reflections on marathon bombings, six months later

Deter­mi­na­tion and resilience. Sleep­less nights. Acts of courage. |

Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Dig­ital Archive has cat­a­logued more than 3,000 sto­ries from those affected by the tragic events on April 15 and the days that fol­lowed, bringing together these expe­ri­ences in a remark­able col­lec­tion of pic­tures, videos, oral his­to­ries, social media, and other mate­rials. North­eastern University’s NULab for Maps, Texts, and Net­works cre­ated the web-​​based, crowd-​​sourced archive as a long-​​term memo­rial to those affected by the bomb­ings and to the city of Boston.

On Tuesday, exactly six months after the tragic events, North­eastern will host a spe­cial exhibit encour­aging vis­i­tors to add their sto­ries and reflec­tions to the mas­sive dig­ital archive.

The exhibit will be held from 1–8 p.m. on the first floor of Snell Library, where Our Marathon team mem­bers will help vis­i­tors share their sto­ries on the dig­ital archive. The event is free and open to the public, and will include large dig­ital screens fea­turing col­lec­tions from the archive as well as sev­eral phys­ical arti­facts donated by the city’s archives and the Boston Med­ical Center. Vis­i­tors will be able to use lap­tops to explore the entire dig­ital archive.

Our Marathon has col­lected more than 3,000 items since its launch in May. Exam­ples include more than 200 first-​​person accounts sub­mitted by The Boston Globe; a variety of Internet memes and graphics; photos from the #onerun; and a col­lec­tion of images sub­mitted by a North­eastern stu­dent taken before, during, and after the bomb­ings. People can also share their sto­ries directly through the web­site by sub­mit­ting written accounts, photos, videos, text mes­sages, and other media.

“Sto­ries have power,” said Our Marathon’s chief project man­ager Ryan Cordell, an assis­tant pro­fessor of Eng­lish and dig­ital human­i­ties expert in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties. “Com­mu­ni­ties cohere around their shared sto­ries, and we believe that sto­ries can help people heal.”

The Marathon bomb­ings claimed three lives and injured more than 260, while MIT police officer Sean Col­lier was fatally shot days later at the start of a dra­matic chase for the two sus­pected bombers.

On Monday night, WCVB-​​TV Ch. 5 aired a spe­cial pro­gram in which sur­vivors and first respon­ders shared their mem­o­ries from Marathon Monday and how their lives have since been affected. Many shared their expe­ri­ences of per­se­ver­ance, trials, and tri­umphs, and in one amazing moment a sur­vivor met for the first time the first respon­ders who saved her life.

North­eastern hosted the event, which was taped on Sept. 19 and attended by more than 150 people, including 25 sur­vivors as well as their family and friends.

The Ch. 5 pro­gram will become part of the Our Marathon archive along with news mate­rial sub­mitted by the sta­tion. In addi­tion to Ch. 5, Our Marathon has part­nered with WBUR, The Boston Globe’s Globe Lab, and insti­tu­tions such as The Dig­ital Public Library of America and The Internet Archive.

The Our Marathon project began to take shape about a week after the bomb­ings as Eng­lish pro­fessor and NULab co-​​director Eliz­a­beth Mad­dock Dillon lis­tened as her grad­uate stu­dents shared their unique con­nec­tions to the attack. Struck by how each stu­dent had his or her own story to tell, Dillon emailed her col­leagues at the NULab with her obser­va­tion, sparking a con­ver­sa­tion about ways to col­lect all these stories.

Since then, Our Marathon has held public events, col­lected sto­ries, and formed key part­ner­ships in order to build the archive. Orga­nizers hope the project will serve as a long-​​term archive for future gen­er­a­tions to gain a more com­plete under­standing of the Marathon bombing and the events that fol­lowed through per­sonal sto­ries and reflections.

“His­tory often misses smaller sto­ries, but Our Marathon will fea­ture them,” Cordell said. “We believe that smaller sto­ries when col­lected are the big story, the most impor­tant and true account of events.”

– By Greg St. Martin

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