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The University of Texas Humanities Institute recently completed an NEH Digital Projects for the Public Discovery Grant for “Communities of Care: Documenting Voices of Healing and Endurance.” This project aims to explore the ways Central Texas communities experience and respond to health disparities, develop modes of endurance in response to illness and suffering, and  advocate for  more inclusive and comprehensive healthcare through designing an inclusive multimedia storytelling platform. During the course of the grant, the “Communities of Care” team grappled with addressing the needs of Central Texas partnering organizations and local communities, while continuing to explore promoting a healthier society through narrative practices and digital resources.

Through a collaboration with researchers located across the University of Texas at Austin and within a number of Austin’s community organizations, the “Communities of Care” team completed the Discovery grant with a clear sense of the scope and final shape of the overall project. Based on a prototype website and digital archive created over the course of the grant, the team will push forward with a digital repository and nexus of community engagement through a “Communities of Care” website.

The prototype website will act as a digital archive and exhibit for the Humanities Institute and partnering community organizations to discuss topics at the many intersections of health, medicine, and healing, including topics around the current COVID-19 crisis. The website will serve as a repository for organizations’ stories and materials related to health challenges and resiliency as well as a means of further engaging the public in important conversations through discussion posts and comments. In subsequent iterations we plan to make it possible for users to submit their own narratives and media, and for community organizations to network with each other on narrative collection strategies and technologies. The Humanities Institute plans to release a preliminary version of this website publicly this summer.

The “Communities of Care” project builds on the scholarly and community relationships that the Humanities Institute has developed throughout its activities in 2016 and 2017 under the organizing theme, “Health, Well-Being, and Healing,” including the 2016-2018 Faculty Fellows Seminar, as well as on the research developed through May 2018’s Health & Humanities Pop-Up Institute and Symposium.

The interdisciplinary research team is led by Humanities Institute director Pauline Strong (principal investigator) with participating faculty from the College of Liberal Arts, the Dell Medical School, the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, the School of Information, and the University of Texas Libraries, as well as community leaders from partnering organizations, including the Texas After Violence Project, the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institute, Migrant Clinicians Network, Texas Folklife, the Lullaby Project of Austin Classical Guitar, the Austin History Center, Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas Chapter, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and Art from the Streets.

Over the course of 2018 into late fall of 2019, this team of researchers and Austin community health leaders gathered to approach the task of building a digital archive while engaging with the work already begun by many of the project’s partnering organizations. The team brought together researchers, scholars, and facilitators such as Dr. Courtney Donovan, associate professor of Geography & Environment at San Francisco State University, to envision the project, as detailed in our mid-term update. Dr. Donovan’s discussion of her work with StoryBridge provided the team valuable insight into the possibilities for a digital health narrative platform. A local facilitator, Dr. Julie Fellows, collaborated with the team on crafting a concrete picture of the project ahead, including possible incarnations the project could take both as a public-facing digital project and as a collaboration with Austin and Central Texas organizations. The project additionally received help and guidance from Eric Nordquist of the University of Texas School of Information on furthering envisioning a digital project that would meet both the needs of the community and the expertise of the team.

Team members also attended a community workshop organized by the Texas After Violence Project, bringing to Austin members of Documenting the Now (DocNow), a project aimed at preservation and archiving of digital content. The workshop aimed to train activists in digital security issues, and additionally helped team members in attendance think more carefully about the privacy issues inherent to any project melding digital and health humanities. DocNow staffers encouraged team members to investigate the open-source platform Mukurtu, a content management system that provides increased flexibility in access and privacy controls, as well as a robust archive management system to preserve digital materials. Mukurtu thus became the basis for the project’s demonstration website.

Most recently, the core team in partnership with the University of Texas Libraries and the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office brought Dr. Alison Langmead, a clinical associate professor and director of the Visual Media Workshop in the department of History of Art and Architecture & the department of Information Culture and Data Stewardship at the University of Pittsburgh to campus for a day-long Digital Humanities workshop entitled “Sustaining DH: An NEH Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities.” The workshop enabled team members in attendance to better articulate the scope of the project, as well as make connections with other UT-Austin and Texas affiliates engaged in the process of building a digital project. With this refinement, the team was able to move forward with building a prototype website, with the expectation of seeking further funding to build narrative collecting and public engagement activities as a part of the overall project.

Among both the project’s original and continuing goals are giving voice to individuals who are otherwise not represented in mainstream health and wellness narratives, making visible organizations and individuals working in health care and health related fields, and making visible individuals with health conditions otherwise unseen by popular narratives. Moving forward, the “Communities of Care” team looks to engage community members through the new website, and hopes to encourage users of the upcoming website to consider their own stories of health, wellness, and healing. The project will additionally continue to foster collaboration between UT-Austin and the larger health community in Central Texas.

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  • Read more about the NEH proposal and grant here and here

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