Locative Media and Embedding Stories in Place

    by Leslie Rule
    October 29, 2007

    We are a little more than a week away from heading down to the Mississippi Delta to start our project: geo-tag 3 markers on the Mississippi Blue’s Trial – a trail that stretches from Jackson, MS up to Memphis, TN. One of the teams was given the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale. In techno talk, we’ll be using geo-spatial technology to embed stories, sound and relationships to locations. We’re hoping that this re-visioning of geographic space will help visualize the invisible and/or imaginary realities, helping us to see the present in a new light…and maybe even to help forecast the future (OK, that’s a little bit of a stretch right now). On most of our projects, we use a range of mapping tools. Some are web-based like Google Earth, some are device-centric like cell phone and serve like a two-way mp3 player, some are gps-enabled PDAs that are available to almost nobody.

    While they’re calling me the Team Leader, I’m really the resident technologist, working with across disciplinary teams, including incredibly talented producers, artists, journalists, all coming together to figure out what this locative media project could and should be. (I am not worthy; I am not worthy. I am most definitely not worthy.) The team is taking a specific place, the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, MS and creating a soundscape we’ll follow it through time, starting with the Mississippi River formation, through the 14th Century Mound Indians, The Conquistadors, Cotton, Slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, Sharecropping, the arrival of the trains, the floods — to the blues. Often locative media projects are categorized by the intersection of an x axis labeled “time” and the y axis labeled “place.” For this project, we’ll take a place and create the passage of time.

    A little history: The Riverside Hotel was originally a hospital: Bessie Smith died in 1937 in what is now Room 2. (Do we have a ghost story? Maybe.) Frank Ratliff, “Rat,” was four years old when the hospital was purchased by his mother and made into a hotel. “Rat” now owns the hotel and will be our primary storyteller. Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson II have stayed here. While we are lucky to have an original voice, even more important, he’ll recount the stories “in situ,” where they took place. Research at the University of Bristol has shown that stories told “in situ” are very different from stories told in a distant location about a place.


    We’re hoping that location-based technologies framing geographical place will allow a direct, intimate and immediate connection between information, historic experiences, and the visitor. Our great hope is that as these enabling technologies are put into the “place,” they will strengthen the connections that lead to sustainable communities, inform land use and planning, and, of course, show the great contribution of the Mississippi Delta Blues to World Music.

    Come back, I’ll be posting every Monday and Wednesday.

    Tagged: digital storytelling emerging technologies locative media
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