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Advancing Innovation in the Digital Humanities

“Curating East Africa” utilizes mobile-friendly tools to promote African culture

Cleveland State University history scholars Mark Souther and Meshack Owino have been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to expand their research in digital history. The funds will be used to develop “Curating East Africa,” which will enable scholars or small teams in the developing world to create location-based, interpretive digital humanities presentations, such as web-based oral history collections or virtual tours of area landmarks, optimized for the mobile-first Internet culture.

The $74,939 grant is one of 27 awards made in the current round of Digital Humanities Advancement Grants for developing and applying digital tools. It is part of a slate of 245 grants announced today by the NEH.

Souther, a professor of history, has been on the faculty at CSU since 2003. His expertise is in urban, public, and digital history, and he is director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. Owino, an associate professor of history, joined CSU in 2005 and specializes in African history.

Curating East Africa expands on the Center’s development of Curatescape, a mobile-app framework pioneered by the Cleveland Historical project, to present digital interpretations of local history, and is now used by more than fifty organizations worldwide. It also builds on Souther and Owino’s 2015-16 NEH start-up grant “Curating Kisumu,” a partnership between CSU and Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city located in the Great Lakes region of East Africa.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to see this project, now three years in the making, move toward our original goal,” Souther says. “It promises to overcome regional technical constraints as it addresses gaps between ambition and adoption of digital humanities practice in Africa. Our hope is to see wide adoption of this open-source tool for local cultural production—not only in the East African context but also wherever resources are limited.”

 “This project offers a model for cross-cultural interchange of ideas and practice in the humanities,” Owino adds. “I have personally seen how it raises the stakes for our students. Now they are doing more than engaging with African history; they are also doing research with clear public outcomes and developing widely applicable skills. The project also engages the African community in a leading-edge project that invites greater public awareness and conversation about what in a city’s landscape is important, and why.”

The grant will involve transnational student teams from CSU and Maseno, who will curate place-based histories based on local and regional cultural needs. The project team will test the new WordPress-based toolset first in Kisumu and will engage a panel of experts in Kenya and Tanzania to evaluate the content and framework. The grant period begins on September 1 and runs for one year.