Ethnic Layers of Detroit project reveals city's untold stories
Ethnic Layers of Detroit (ELD) is a digital humanities project that compiles and archives stories about Detroit landmarks with rich and hidden histories. From the tale of a prohibition-era speakeasy with gang affiliations to Detroit's legendary soda-pop, Faygo, the project brings the city's cultural history to life through multimedia storytelling.
"We're interested in telling the unknown stories of different ethnic groups that have helped shape the history of Detroit," says Dr. Sangeetha Gopalakrishnan, director of the Foreign Language Technology Center, and one of the founding members of ELD.
Gopalakrishnan, along with WSU colleagues Laura Kline, Julie Koehler, and Felecia Lucht, were inspired to create ELD after learning about a similar project in New York called German Traces of NYC. Later, WSU professors Alina Klin and Krysta Ryzewski also joined to help found ELD.
The project became official in Oct. 2012 when they received a Humanities Center Working Group (HCWG) grant. It went on to earn another HCWG grant in 2013, and eventually a $60,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2014. With these funds, ELD has created 29 digital stories: 24 by project directors, and five made by students. All stories can be viewed on the ELD website.
Due to the expertise of the faculty involved, the focus of ELD has centered mainly around Slavic, German, and Polish sites. However, the group has begun reaching out to cultural communities around Detroit. "Let's say there's an ethnic group with a historic site that wants to tell their story," Gopalakrishnan explains. "By partnering with community members, we can give them the means to do so."
Going forward, the ELD plans to expand community involvement and integrate the project into the department's curriculum. They already offer the option to work on a story as a digital project for course credit. However, students don't have to be directly involved with a course to work on ELD; anyone is welcome to contact them about potential historical sites.
Project directors will present their favorite sites and stories at an event being hosted by ELD at noon on Nov. 14. The event is open to the entire campus community.
By Theron Leclerc, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences writing assistant