Skip to content

Researchers developing Marathon digital archive

A team of dig ital human i ties researchers at North eastern is leading the devel op ment of a com pre hen sive dig ital archive fea turing sto ries, photos, videos, oral his to ries, social media, and other mate rials related to last month’s tragic Boston Marathon bomb ings. The group will engage the public for the first time on Sat urday at #onerun, an event for Boston Marathon run ners who didn’t finish the race to finally com plete the final mile.

Our Marathon is project run through Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Net works—the university’s research-​​based center for Dig ital Human i ties and Com pu ta tional Social Sci ence. The archive will serve as a long-​​term memo rial that pre serves these records for stu dents and researchers, pro vides an impor tant resource for future his to rians, and cre ates an envi ron ment for the public to share its experiences.

At Saturday’s #onerun event, the NULab team will have a sta tion set up for vis i tors inter ested in pro viding on-​​camera inter views that will be archived on the Our Marathon web site. The team will also have lap tops avail able to show vis i tors how to upload con tent directly through the site, which is still in beta form.

“This archive is really a way to help with healing process and pre serve these mem o ries for the his tor ical record,” said Ryan Cordell, an assis tant pro fessor of Eng lish and Our Marathon’s project man ager. “We want to cap ture as many mate rials as we can that help tell the stories—not just the what hap pened, but how people expe ri enced what happened.”

The NULab team will hold more public out reach events throughout the summer to spread aware ness and encourage the com mu nity to par tic i pate while mem o ries are still fresh in people’s minds. The team is also exploring part ner ships with media orga ni za tions, gov ern ment offi cials, and other uni ver si ties to grow the project and increase its impact.

In related news, NULab co-​​director David Lazer has been ana lyzing the texts and tweets sent out fol lowing the bomb ings to fur ther under stand how people use their social net works during emer gen cies. This data, which he said he could be used to improve emer gency response, will also included in the dig ital archive.
These projects are among a number of ongoing efforts at the NULab and across the uni ver sity that exem plify Northeastern’s lead er ship in the emerging field of dig ital human i ties, which falls at that inter sec tion of com pu ta tional and social sciences.

“Dig ital human i ties is a very pub licly engaged field,” Cordell said. “Dig ital projects are highly vis ible and inter ac tive, and the Our Marathon project will allow the NULab to build on the strengths it’s cul ti vating here by cre ating a public project that ben e fits the community.”

The Boston Marathon bomb ings on April 15 killed three people, injured more than 260, and left the entire nation grap pling with its emo tions in the wake of the tragedy. A week after the bomb ings, and only days after a tense man hunt for one of the sus pected bombers con cluded with his cap ture, Eng lish pro fessor Eliz a beth Mad dock Dillon lis tened as her grad uate stu dents shared their unique con nec tions to the attack. Struck by how each stu dent had his or her own story to tell, Dillon emailed her col leagues at the NULab with her obser va tion, sparking a con ver sa tion about ways to col lect all these sto ries in one place. From there, the Our Marathon project took shape.
Dillon, co-​​director of the NULab, envi sions the dig ital archive as a mul ti pur pose data base, one whose col lec tions of sto ries will help the com mu nity heal, facil i tate a wide variety of future research, and serve as resource for com mu nity building.

“My sense of this archive is that it would tell the story of the entire com mu nity,” she said.

Mem bers of the North eastern com mu nity who have a story or other media related to the marathon events can con tribute to the archive at http://​marathon​.neu​.edu. Stu dents, alumni, or other com mu nity mem bers inter ested in vol un teering along side Northeastern’s Our Marathon team this summer can email marathon@​neu.​edu for more information.

– by Greg St. Martin

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish