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Remembering the 2013 Boston Marathon with the Our Marathon Archive

5ee847e668198e774022be574d3716b2Today marks the one-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent events that shook the city of Boston. I teach at Northeastern University, blocks from the Marathon’s finish line, and many of our students were directly affected by those events: they were participating in the race, they were helping in the medical tents, they were cheering on friends and family, or they lived in buildings that were evacuated during the tense days following the bombings. Some of our students or those close to them were injured. All of our community was somehow touched. The Marathon takes place on Patriot’s Day, a holiday in Massachusetts and a yearly celebration for the city. When that celebration was marred by violence and then a week of continuous tension, our students reeled.

Last year Marathon Monday fell in the last week of Northeastern’s semester, and so we found ourselves trying to finish our semester in the days immediately following the bombings. Many final classes, as you might imagine, were given over to reflection and discussion—our students wanted to talk about where they’d been, what they’d seen, what they’d experienced. They needed to heal, and they needed to tell their stories and commiserate with others in order to do so. One of my colleagues, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, suggested that we might make good use of the expertise building in our NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and create a forum where a larger community might gather, share their stories, and heal.

Thanks to generous seed funding from the University, we were able in just a few weeks to begin building Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive. Since then we’ve been fortunate to partner with a number of media organizations, companies, and cultural heritage institutions to collect stories, pictures, videos, social media data, oral histories, and more from the day of the 2013 Marathon and beyond. The goals for the archive are detailed in its mission statement:

“Our Marathon” is a crowd-sourced archive of pictures, videos, stories, and even social media related to the Boston Marathon; the bombing on April 15, 2013; the subsequent search, capture, and trial of the individuals who planted the bombs; and the city’s healing process. “Our Marathon” will allow the public to explore not only what happened during the event, but also how the event was experienced by Bostonians, visitors to the city, and those many members of the “Boston diaspora” who were far away but deeply engaged in the unfolding events. The archive will serve as a long-term memorial, preserving these records for students and researchers, providing future historians with invaluable, local windows into an important national event.

Much of the media attention in the wake of the bombing has focused on the two men accused of planting the bombs, as well as, importantly, on the victims and survivors of the violence. We see this archive as a way to allow a wider range of important stories about these events to be told and shared. The bombing changed lives in ways small and large and in ways that were immediate and more enduring. This is a place for those images, emotions, and experiences to be shared and for us to understand the event in its broad, community-wide dimensions.

If you are looking for a way to mark today’s anniversary, here are a few ways you might use Our Marathon to do so:

  1. Explore the items we’ve gathered so far, both from the community and from our partners.
  2. Listen to the oral histories gathered by our oral history team, which are airing on WBUR in the weeks leading up to this year’s marathon.
  3. Visit the blog and read reflections penned by members of the project team. Our Marathon could not have happened without the graduate and undergraduate students who have done simply amazing work keeping the project running. There are two faculty members (including myself) listed as the project’s “Primary Investigators,” but I assure you that’s an artifact of institutional structures. The real story is further down the staff page—Alicia Peaker, Jim McGrath, Dave DeCamp, and Kristi Girdharry deserve special kudos for doing so much of the heavy lifting throughout the year.
  4. Finally, share your story! The mantra of Our Marathon has been “No Story Too Small.” We believe that the most valuable work we can do is to capture the many ways this event impacted a wide range of people. We want to record lived history. So whether you live near Boston or not, if you have a story (or picture, or video, etc.) about where you were, what you remember, or how you felt about the 2013 Marathon, its aftermath, or the many healing events that have spanned the past year, please share with our community.
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