Crowdsourcing and Curating Collective Memory, Legends, and Local History with Facebook Groups

About two days ago, I noticed a flurry of postings from my local friends to a Facebook group called, “You’re Probably from Canton, GA (Cherokee County) If You Remember??” in which people were reminiscing about places, people, and traditions gone by in the local town and surrounding communities of Canton.   Out of curiosity, I began perusing the posts in the group this evening and am fascinated by the phenomenon I see happening here:  over 900 members are sharing collective memory, legends, lore, photographs, and remembrances of life in the past of Canton.

People are sharing musings and engaging in threaded conversations around historic photographs, school days, local events that no longer take place, “urban legends” (including one about one of my high school teachers, Miss Mauldin, who supposedly became distressed when she could not find her classroom after a group of mischievous teens pushed the lockers down the hall and concealed the entrance to her classroom), local figures, traditions, and cultural institutions of life in what used to a be fairly small north Georgia town.  Most of the memories center on life prior to the 1990s, a decade in which a population explosion changed the physical and cultural landscape of the community in many ways.

As I am browsing through the posts this evening, I can’t help but wonder what libraries and educators could take away from this kind of phenomenon of crowdsourcing collective memories; I’m intrigued what an ethnographer might also be able to take away from this collective narrative as well as individual narratives that are shared in this public space.

  • How can libraries and educators harness the power of social media to help people build a rich narrative?
  • Whose voices seem included and what groups might be absent from the conversation–and what might that in and of itself tell us about the culture of the community?
  • What can we learn from the stories that are shared in a medium like this and how could this be a medium for multiple voices telling the history, the story of a shared place?
  • Could we view this Facebook group as an alternative or emerging form of text?
  • What can we take away from this kind of narrative to inform our understanding of digital storytelling and digital composition?
  • Is Facebook a medium for curation, and if so, what are the benefits as well as challenges for using it as a curation medium?  How might libraries weave narratives from a group like this into a larger digital text using a tool like Storify?
  • What qualities engage and compel people to contribute to this conversation?  I saw numerous comments along the lines of, “This is fun!  I could do this all night!” or remarks about the number of hours people were devoting to sharing and reading the posts and comments in the group.   Clearly, people are experiencing flow in this learning and shared story space–how can libraries and educators tap into the power of shared storytelling and construction of local history/memory?
  • How is this group functioning as a site of participatory culture?
  • Do groups like this encourage people to use social media who may be reluctant to join a social network or who may not feel a sense of agency or desire to participate in social networking?
  • What motivates people to establish and engage in sustained participation in groups like these?

7 comments

  1. This just happened to me with my hometown, and it is indeed fascinating. You pose some great questions. One of the things I’m enjoying about it is that I find it’s privileging voices that usually NEVER make their way into official, established community history venues. As a museum professional, if I were working in the local historical society or a similar organization, I’d find this a gold mine for names, events, and themes that could underlie powerful exhibition content. My hometown group on Facebook is proving to be more racially, economically, and culturally diverse, more “inappropriate,” more honest, and funnier than any formal presentation of local history I’ve ever seen. Though it is a useful exercise to wonder “who’s missing,” it’s also useful to look at who’s present, and to compare that with the participant demographic in real-world sites of memory.

    1. Wow, Michelle, I so enjoy your comments and observations! I wonder if any libraries are helping support these kinds of spaces for collective history/memory into their programming, or do you know of any museums infusing this into their exhibition?

      I’ve noticed quite lots of new groups like this one springing up in the FB streams of my friends in other states…truly a cool and fascinating phenomenon!

      Thank you again for sharing your reflections—I so appreciate your perspective!
      Best, Buffy

  2. I was looking through the page for my hometown just now and the interaction between everyone is fantastic – I’m excited to see where this can go!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s