Digital humanities project brings ‘wala’ to Wayne State


Wayne State History Professor Jennifer Hart is bringing the digital humanities to life through a project called Accra Wala. The story starts more than 5,500 miles away from Detroit, on the western coast of Africa. Hart and a team of students have documented the daily lives of the citizens of Accra, Ghana to gain a better understanding of life within the city.

Hart, who has been studying Ghana since 2009, will soon launch an interactive map of the transit system of its capital city, Accra. The project, Accra Wala —wala meaning “life” — will allow citizens to upload media as well as tag and locate themselves at their pinned locations. As citizens upload media, they’ll help to build out the site as a popular archive of city life.

To Hart, this project is much more than just a map. “I saw this as an opportunity to translate some of the academic conversations happening around issues of mobility and urban development for a public audience and create new opportunities for the public to shape the way Accra is labeled, organized and discussed,” she says.

Study abroad students chat with local Accran

“I think it’s possible — depending on who ultimately contributes to the site — that we might be able to visualize urban social, cultural and economic networks in new ways or, rather, spatialize practices that we know exist but have not really been mapped.”

The interdisciplinary team of students helping to bring this project to fruition includes everything from history to engineering majors. Computer science students helped code the Accra Wala site while design students created the logo. Last summer, several study abroad students collaborated with Ashesi University to collect multimedia material to be archived for the project.

Hart strongly encourages students to study abroad. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Studying abroad will give you a different perspective on situations and that will make you unique,” she said.

Students interested in urban planning and policies should consider studying abroad in Ghana, according to Hart. “We have students that contribute to local policy plans. Students who want to make an impact in shaping the future of a city like Detroit should be looking beyond the current status quo for inspiration and insight. Doing that requires interdisciplinary thinking and global awareness.”  

To learn more about the Accra Wala project, visit or keep up with the progress via Twitter through @DetroitToAccra

Students interested in Wayne State’s Digital Humanities minor can reach out to Hart for more information.

By Elizabeth Washington, digital and communication associate

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