The Humanities Truck is an interdisciplinary platform designed to facilitate collaborative community-based research, scholarship, and exhibitions.  These collaborations take time and can take many different forms. The Humanities Truck Project Fellowship program provides a year for the Truck Fellows to be able to use the truck to develop these community relationships.  Truck Fellows are expected to build a collaborative process that involves community partners in each phase of their projects, from research and documentation, to interpretation, and scholarly creation in the form of accessible exhibitions and performances.  Throughout the year, Truck Fellows meet together to reflect upon the effective practices of community-engaged scholarship, and also to share the findings of their own projects.

2021-2022

Decriminalizing Drugs, Decriminalizing People: Stories to End the Drug War

In collaboration with the DC harm reduction organization HIPS, we aim to continue our project that brought open conversation, education, training, and creative engagement to local communities about harm reduction, drugs, overdose, and naloxone. We are strengthening our emphasis on storytelling, oral histories, and the impacts of drug criminalization.

We will be centering on the experiences and lives of people impacted by drug criminalization in the District. This project will serve to assist HIPS’ work with the #DecrimPovertyDC coalition and campaign and will contribute to general education about the multifaceted and disruptive impacts of the War on Drugs and drug criminalization.

Focusing on storytelling and oral histories will allow us to highlight the voices of people who use drugs (PWUD) to tell their own stories. It is our ultimate goal to humanize PWUD, who are too often stigmatized, misunderstood, and marginalized.

Throughout the project, we will host many creative, fun, collaborative community events to amplify educational information about the importance of harm reduction, decriminalization, and the rationale behind de/criminalization as a public health issue. 

LJ Sislen

LJ Sislen

MA Graduate, Public Anthropology

LJ (they/she) graduated in the Fall of 2021 with their MA in Public Anthropology and Health Inequity and Care Certification (HIC). Their research examines how power dynamics, social determinants of health, policy, and ideology impact drug use, treatment, and recovery narratives, thus impacting forms of and access to care, health, and well-being. Emphasis on community responses and individuals’ lived experiences is core to their projects. During undergraduate at American University, LJ examined the experiences and history of people who use drugs in America, including an ethnographic approach to understanding the roles of social narratives and embodiment of recovery from harmful drug use in sober living homes. In 2019, Laura was also involved in the organization and programming of a large annual community health conference; their responsibilities included speaker selection and the development of novel workshop formats and topics. They are currently a harm reduction volunteer, chaotic supporter of #DecrimPovertyDC, and admirer of tea, herbs, and plants.

Rachel Watkins

Rachel Watkins

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Rachel Watkins is an associate professor of anthropology at American University. Her work focuses on African American biohistory and social history, histories of US biological anthropology and Black feminist critiques of science. Based on her involvement in the New York African Burial Ground project, she consults with agencies and works with communities to support descendant-community driven historic preservation and interpretation. Her partnership with the Sandy Spring Slave Museum is connected to this work.


The Sandy Spring Slave Museum- American University Partnership: Curation, Education, and Engagement 

The Sandy Spring Slave Museum was founded in 1988, with an interpretive and historical focus on enslaved Blacks who were manumitted by the Quakers in the 1820s and the area’s ties to the Underground Railroad. The museum hosts a broad range of programs, individual visitors and school groups. 

The Humanities Truck and grant funding will be used for resources and programming that support the museum in augmenting its authoritative presence in Olney-Sandy Spring historic preservation and interpretation. This includes: a) developing and expanding public education and interpretation around free African American families residing in the area since the 1800s; b) developing and expanding interpretation of the community as an important site through with to understand African Diasporas in the US and the Americas and c) developing their preservation infrastructure. 

The truck will be a part of annual events hosted by the museum and wider community throughout the year. The truck will also be centered in developing and actualizing programs that support the museum’s intent to function as a community archive and community center. Specific truck events will center on collecting oral histories, and facilitating donations of documents, photographs and artifacts/heirlooms by members of the Sandy Spring community.

Climatize: How DC Riverfront Neighborhoods are Left To Their Own Devices

A lot has been made in the media lately about how climate change-induced sea-level rise in the Chesapeake Bay is already causing “daytime flooding” of the Tidal Basin on the Potomac River. How that flooding is destroying America’s beloved cherry blossoms lining the Tidal Basin, and how the Jefferson Memorial is also suffering damage, too. The National Park Service has committed millions of dollars and a huge campaign to save the Tidal Basin from climate change flooding.

Before the Potomac River’s daytime flooding gets to the Tidal Basin, though, it overflows the banks of SW DC neighborhoods like Buzzard Point, the SW Waterfront; SE neighborhoods like Anacostia Park, the Navy Yard, and Bellevue. These are predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods where they are largely left to fend for themselves when it comes to building mitigation, adaptation, and resilience strategies in the face of climate change. The aim of the project is twofold: to discover how these communities are adapting and then share their stories of strength, hope, and courage with the rest of DC.

Jeffrey Madison

Jeffrey Madison

Director of Technology Services School of Communication | Co-Founder of The Climate

Jeffrey Madison, Director of Technology Services for AUSOC, and an adjunct in SOE. Jeffrey is also co-founder of The Climate, Inc. (http://www.theclimate.org) and producer/anchor of its signature program, “The Climate Daily” podcast. Its mission is to highlight positive action climate change news, amplifying diverse and inclusive climate reporting by BIPOC and ADA subject matter experts on crucial Climate Crisis issues. He graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in both Afro-American Studies and Visual & Environmental Studies.

Martinique C. G. Free

Martinique C. G. Free

Director of the Public Health Scholars Program

Martinique Free began community engagement work in her early years and her passion grew from those experiences into community based participatory research while working with the HIV community in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to the Humanities Truck project centered on Black Women’s health, her recent work involves the development of community-based interventions to decrease HIV perinatal transmission and empowering communities using a “bottom-up” stabilization strategy to alleviate poverty in the Manafwa District of Uganda. Dr. Free’s other areas of interest include health disparities, reproductive justice and women’s health in minority populations, health equity, and understanding cultural relevance as it relates to health promotion and disease prevention. An important component of her teaching responsibilities at American University involves developing courses or incorporating a component centered around community-based learning and in some cases, community engaged research for the Department of Health Studies

 

Black Women’s Movement to Reclaim Our Health

The Black Women’s Movement to Reclaim Our Health Project aims to illustrate, highlight, and analyze efforts of health activists and organizations centered specifically on Black women’s health through the use of the Humanities Truck. In partnership with the organizations Black Women’s Health Imperative, GirlTrek, and Sippin’ T with Nat & Z Podcast Group, we will explore how has health activism on behalf of Black women evolved within the last several decades, what unique ways are Black women’s health issues being addressed through activism, how have these efforts translated into policy change, and what does the future hold for these activists and organizations in further elevating Black women into living healthier lives. We will interview activists who have dedicated their efforts centered around improving the health outcomes of Black women. We will also digitize oral histories of organizations that are committed to providing programming and conducting policy work for the improvement of Black women’s health. In addition, we intend to interview community residents to understand how the programming efforts and influencing of policy change by organizations have benefited them personally in creating equitable access to healthcare and other health-promotion resources. Using the Humanities Truck as a platform to celebrate
community empowerment and engagement, we intend to create a space to share personal experiences from community members and the work of these advocacy-oriented organizations. By doing this, Black women may convene and share their stories of reclaiming their health and paying homage to the activists/organizations that helped them recenter and prioritize the importance of their well-being. 

Out of Our Shells: A Celebration of Homegrown DC Music

“Out of Our Shells” is a year-long project that aims to freely record, promote, and provide a public platform for a range of local musicians working in different styles and genres across the Washington, DC area. Additionally, the aim is to collect their stories and reflections on their creative communities, capturing an oral history of local musical cultures in the nation’s capital. The project will be undertaken in conjunction with Multiflora Productions, a local world music promotion company, as well as DCTV, the district’s public access television network, creating free, openly licensed, and publicly available archives of the material in the form of a music compilation, a television program, and web-based materials. The project will also be integrated with a Spring, 2022 course at American University’s School of Communication entitled “Musical Cultures and Industries,” giving students a chance to learn about DC musical culture and to play a role in its celebration and preservation.

Aram Sinnreich

Aram Sinnreich

Chair of Communication Studies

Dr. Aram Sinnreich is a media professor, author, and musician. He currently serves as chair of Communication Studies at American University’s School of Communication. Sinnreich’s work focuses on the intersection of culture, law and technology, with an emphasis on subjects such as emerging media and music. He is the author of several books, including Mashed Up (2010), The Piracy Crusade (2013), The Essential Guide to Intellectual Property (2019), and The Secret Life of Data (forthcoming, MIT Press). He has also written for publications including The New York Times, Billboard, Wired, Salon, and The Daily Beast. As a bassist and composer, Sinnreich has played with groups and artists including reggae soul band Dubistry, jazz and R&B band Brave New Girl, acoustic duo Dunia & Aram, post-punk icon Vivien Goldman, hard bop trio The Rooftoppers, UK ska collective The Specialized Project, and Ari-Up, lead singer of legendary punk band The Slits. Sinnreich was a finalist in the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest (with co-authors Dunia Best and Todd Nocera), and a semifinalist in the 2020 Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Awards.

Ludy Grandas

Ludy Grandas

Senior Professorial Lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures

Ludy Grandas is a senior professorial lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures. Her teaching focuses primarily on nation and state formation in Latin America, Studies of Culture in Latin America, the Studies of Culture in Hispanic populations in the US, as well as Spanish Language. Her research interests include labor, immigrant labor, cultural studies as practiced in Latin America. For the last few years, she has been collaborating with the Latin American day laborer community in Washington, DC. She has led Community Based Learning Courses which connect AU students to these specific populations.

 

Youth Stories of Children of the Day Laborers in Washington, DC

This project looks for day laborers’ youths to learn of the audiovisual form and tell their own stories utilizing the practical knowledge they acquire in the process. Through a series of practical audiovisual workshops, these youths will have the opportunity to watch short films, analyze them to learn audiovisual language; they will also engage in screenplay writing so that they can write their own stories for audiovisual form. Later, they will learn how to use their cell phone cameras to capture captivating video and photo-based on their writing. They will learn of frames, light, takes, and other aspects of video production. Taking what they learn here, they will record both during the workshop and where they live. Later, using what they have captured, they will engage in an edition workshop and postproduction process. Lastly, they will create posters of each of their pieces to participate in a premier to showcase their audiovisual projects.

2019-2021

 


Meeting People Where They’re at: Harm reduction as praxis, philosophy, and movement

In collaboration with the DC harm reduction organization HIPS, this project brings open community conversations, education, training, and creative engagement to local communities about drugs, the opioid epidemic, overdose, and opioid overdose reversal training — free meals, training, and naloxone will be provided. Paired with mutual aid efforts, these events will be located in different wards and a large community cookout that brings the collaborations, reflections, awareness, and conversations together for a party on Opioid Overdose Awareness Day on August 31st, 2021. In addition to bringing valuable life saving resources and open dialogue to people who may need it, we intend to highlight and raise awareness about the harm reduction approach to drugs — as a praxis, philosophy, social movement aimed at reducing the harm caused by stigma, misinformation, and  violent, ineffective drug policies. 
LJ Sislen

LJ Sislen

MA Graduate, Public Anthropology

LJ (they/she) graduated in the Fall of 2021 with their MA in Public Anthropology and Health Inequity and Care Certification (HIC). Their research examines how power dynamics, social determinants of health, policy, and ideology impact drug use, treatment, and recovery narratives, thus impacting forms of and access to care, health, and well-being. Emphasis on community responses and individuals’ lived experiences is core to their projects. During undergraduate at American University, LJ examined the experiences and history of people who use drugs in America, including an ethnographic approach to understanding the roles of social narratives and embodiment of recovery from harmful drug use in sober living homes. In 2019, Laura was also involved in the organization and programming of a large annual community health conference; their responsibilities included speaker selection and the development of novel workshop formats and topics. They are currently a harm reduction volunteer, chaotic supporter of #DecrimPovertyDC, and admirer of tea, herbs, and plants.



Melissa Hawkins

Melissa Hawkins

Sr. Professorial Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Programs for Department of Health Studies

Melissa Hawkins is a 15 year resident of DC and an epidemiologist with an interest in translating data to improve community health. Her current research focuses on community-based interventions to reduce chronic conditions, with particular interest in the integration of community health workers (CHWs) to bridge the gap between communities and access to health care services. Recent work has examined the role of CHWs in community-based teams and the effectiveness of CHWs as change agents in improving health equity. She serves as the research director for Healthy Schoolhouse 2.0 intervention study, a 5-year USDA-funded project, to improve nutrition literacy and prevent obesity among elementary school children in Wards 7 and 8 in DC.

Corner Store Communities in COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the complexities of food inequity. In DC’s Wards 7 and 8, there are only three grocery stores. Individuals living in food deserts (limited access to affordable and nutritious food) and food swamps (high-density of stores selling high-calorie fast food, relative to healthier food options) face additional barriers to accessing healthy and affordable food. 

The goal of Corner Store Communities in COVID-19 is to illustrate the impact of the pandemic on DC residents’ food security by interviewing residents about their experiences at community corner stores. This project brings together scholars, nutrition and health advocates, local corner stores, and community members to document
food security challenges and resilience in COVID-19 in DC. In partnership with
DC Central Kitchen Healthy Corners Program, we will elevate the voices of Ward 7 and 8 residents to share experiences and challenges accessing food. The Humanities Truck will go to corner stores, we will document the experiences of the residents, share these experiences with other residents, and use the truck as a demonstration space to support nutrition workshops where residents can engage with produce and snacks that are offered in the corner stores. We hope to tell stories of the complexity of hunger, of challenges in COVID-19, of resilience and connection during COVID-19. This work builds on the our Healthy Communities work in DC’s to promote healthy lifestyles where people live, learn, work, worship, and shop.  



Taking the Truck OUT!: Recording Lesbian Activism in the AIDS Crisis

This project begins to take on the unique challenge of researching, preserving, interpreting, and presenting to the general public the history of lesbian women’s leadership and activism during the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington DC. Today, treating HIV/AIDS patients is viewed primarily as a medical issue that can be solved by science. But during the 1980s and 90s, activists insisted that the HIV/AIDS epidemic represented a political crisis and a lack of moral leadership. Lesbian activists converged on Washington DC, and joined with local residents and emerging public health organizations, such as Whitman Walker, to fight for the rights of AIDS patients and gay and lesbian communities. Decades later, the work of these activists to stand up to censorship laws and public scorn to fight for the lives of AIDS patients and those vulnerable to infection has receded from view. Contemporary audiences remain largely unfamiliar with the AIDS crisis, ignorant of lesbian history, and unaware of the discrimination faced by LGBTQ activists. This project brings together scholars, public historians, and activists to collaborate on recuperating and documenting the history of lesbian activist organizations in DC.

 
Mary Ellen Curtin

Mary Ellen Curtin

Director of American Studies

Mary Ellen Curtin has a Ph.d from Duke University and is a historian of modern African American and women’s social and political history. Her first book Black Prisoners and Their World documented the experiences of black convict laborers in the South after emancipation. Her next book on the life of Barbara Jordan, the first first black woman from the South elected to Congress, will be published with the University of Pennsylvania Press. Her review article on recent books in prison history will appear in the upcoming edition of the journal Labor and she also has an article in a new anthology entitled The Problem of Punishment. She worked as a consultant, and was interviewed for, the upcoming (Spring 2012) PBS documentary Slavery by Another Name, a history of African Americans and forced labor in the South.



DC Low Wage Workers and Latino Immigrants: Histories That Matter

The immigrant community in DC in general and the day laborers and Afro-Latinos in particular, unlike other groups, stand in plain sight, yet they continue to be invisible even as they embody the nowadays popular stereotype of an undesirable immigrant who, among other things, comes from Mexico, is undocumented, “steal our jobs”, and will unlikely assimilate into US society. Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, DC (TUWDC) has provided much needed respite for the day laborers through various programs intended to improve their everyday lives. The day laborer community is a key participant in the economic, social, political and cultural life of DC. As such, with the Humanities Truck, we intend to document hard to count populations” (by the Census Bureau) specifically, day laborer and Afro-Latino immigrant lives. These communities are missing out on the benefits of policies, representation, investments and services—health, education, housing—associated with being counted; their living conditions and specific needs are often not known; the potential contributions are mostly ignored. By conducting research (archival and current), making short documentaries that trace the lives of day laborers and Afro-Latinos in DC, and itinerant exhibits and drop in the Truck interviews, these populations will have well deserved visibility amongst themselves and extended community. Also, this year, we will create the Teatro Jornalero/Day Laborer Theater, similar to the Teatro campesino popularized in the late 1960s by Luis Valdez. There is a lot of misinformation regarding rights and duties of the day laborers, the latest migration laws, housing, wage theft, or medical care. Having the Truck as a platform, the Teatro Jornalero presents a valuable opportunity to reach sometimes hard to reach audiences.

Ludy Grandas

Ludy Grandas

Senior Professorial Lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures

Ludy Grandas is a senior professorial lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures. Her teaching focuses primarily on nation and state formation in Latin America, Studies of Culture in Latin America, the Studies of Culture in Hispanic populations in the US, as well as Spanish Language. Her research interests include labor, immigrant labor, cultural studies as practiced in Latin America. For the last few years, she has been collaborating with the Latin American day laborer community in Washington, DC. She has led Community Based Learning Courses which connect AU students to these specific populations.



Dan Kerr

Dan Kerr

Humanities Truck Director | Associate Professor of History

When he dreamed of being a truck driver as a child, Kerr never envisioned himself driving the Humanities Truck.  But who knew how much fun that could be?  Working alongside other visionaries at American University, Kerr, an associate professor of history at AU, spearheaded and now directs the Humanities Truck Project.  He is an active community and oral historian committed to the democratization of knowledge production.  He is the Past President of the Oral History Association and directs American University’s Public History program.  Since his earliest work with the Cleveland Homeless History Project, he has sought out ways to bring the oral histories he has collected back to the communities they originated from.  Through community workshops, participants in his projects have collectively reflected upon and interpreted the gathered stories. He is currently working on the Mobilizing Against Homelessness project, which seeks to document and amplify the voices, perspectives, and analysis of those currently experiencing homelessness.

Whose Downtown? The Past and Future of the Federal City Shelter

Sitting two blocks from the Capitol building, sits one of the nation’s largest homeless shelters, which houses up to 1300 people a night in a World War II era building that was originally constructed by the federal government as part of an alley dwelling clearance policy.  The shelter, as well as the building that houses it, have long and storied histories that are intertwined with national urban renewal and homeless assistance polices.  Proposals, however, are calling for the demolition of the building for private redevelopment in 2021. The Whose Downtown? project will bring the truck to the shelter, document the experiences of the residents, share these experiences with other residents, and use the truck space as a workshop to reflect on the past and future of the shelter so that the residents can engage more effectively with the planning processes that will dramatically impact their lives.  This project will continue through the duration of the grant and will document what could potentially be the last years in this iconic shelter’s existence.



Before the Flood: Using Drawing, Mapping, and Design Fiction to Imagine an Equitable Response to Climate Change

This project examines the city’s relationship with the river, and imagines what the city should look like in the future, in the face of rising seas and a climate in crisis. Too often, public process offers a no-build option, under which nothing new will arrive. In the current emergency, there is no no-build option. We’ll use the Humanities Truck as a participatory, mobile design workshop, bringing visual tools to residents so that they can explore landscape changes in the past, share their own experiences with the city’s built environment, and to test future possibilities for how the city can respond. The project focuses on waterfronts, streams, and streets. We see the city and its waterways as a palimsest, built of layers reaching back to before European settlement; the truck’s exhibits and programs will themselves be a palimsest of personal visions, current data, and historical maps and images.

David Ramos

David Ramos

Professorial Lecturer in Graphic Design at the Department of Art

David Ramos is a designer, developer, and design educator based in Washington, D.C. He teaches in the graphic design program at American University and co-organizes Knowledge Commons DC. His research and creative practice looks at using products of design—maps, interactive systems, images, and in-person events—to help us imagine landscapes past, present, and future. David holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.



Benjamin Stokes

Benjamin Stokes

Assistant Professor School of Communication

Benjamin Stokes is a civic media scholar and designer at American University with the Game Lab and in the School of Communication (SOC). His designs for cities have introduced neighbors through play, and retold local history with rebuilt payphones. Previously, Benjamin co-founded Games for Change, the movement hub for advancing social change with games. Benjamin’s publications include research on participatory design, neighborhood storytelling, and urban mapping by bicycle.

Learn more about Benjamin from his website and follow @bgstokes.

Two Interactive Listening Pilots

This project investigates how the truck can be part of a “storytelling system” for neighborhoods, including to bring museum content to the streets. We feature stories from the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (ACM), and its anniversary exhibit “A Right to The City.”  We connect the truck to residents’ cell phones, paper maps, and even custom phone booths to record new stories. We are investigating how strong neighborhoods can tell their own stories by connecting platforms, especially physical to digital. In partnership with the DC Public Library and with funding from the ACM, the truck will anchor a series of activities and events around the city, each tied to neighborhood history and identity.



Community Voice Project Collaborative Film Initiative

The Community Voice Project (CVP) will be using the Humanities Truck to run a community engagement project to take the 2019 CVP Film Series to non-profits across the city. Our goal is to host a least 3 public events in which we exhibit our short film series in an outdoor setting using the truck’s mobile projection system.  We will host talkbacks after each screening with stakeholders from each community, as well as the storytellers from the film, to get feedback on viewer responses to the films. The aim is to honor each specific community and to promote critical dialogue among these DC storytellers, their communities, and our students, arriving at a community interpretation of what these stories mean on a collective level.

The CVP team will also be commencing production on a collaborative documentary centered on the newsroom at Street Sense Media, following a group of journalist filmmakers who have experienced homelessness as they report on the issue of DC’s Tent City. The Street Sense filmmakers co-op will collaborate with our AU film team to tell the story of one of America’s most unique newsrooms, reflecting the myriad perspectives on homelessness from reporters who know homelessness first hand. The Humanities Truck will be used as a mobile review system throughout the editing process, allowing our team to show unfinished cuts of the film to the people represented in the film for feedback.

Laura Waters Hinson

Laura Waters Hinson

Assistant Professor of Film | Director, Community Voice Project

Laura Waters Hinson is an award-winning filmmaker and Assistant Professor in the Film and Media Arts Division of the School of Communication. Laura serves as the division’s social impact coordinator and director of the Community Voice Project. Her first feature documentary, As We Forgive, about Rwanda’s reconciliation movement, won the 2008 student Academy Award for best documentary, the Cinema for Peace Award in Berlin, and was broadcast nationally on public television. Since 2009, Laura’s films have been screened at the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art and at dozens of international film festivals such as the Santa Barbara International Film Fest, Austin Film Fest, Seattle Human Rights Film Fest, Manchester International Film Fest, among many others. Her latest documentary, Mama Rwanda, is about the new generation of women entrepreneurs in Rwanda transforming their nation after genocide and was supported by the National Geographic All Roads Film Project. She partnered with the Akilah Institute for Women, using the film to promote women’s education in East Africa and beyond. Laura is passionate about stories of hope coming out of seemingly hopeless places, and her work is dedicated to giving voice to those not often heard. Most recently, Laura directed her first narrative short called Moving Violation, which starred Milana Vayntrub and won Best Narrative Short at the DC Independent Film Festival. During the Spring of 2019, Laura served as the director’s shadow on the set of Showtime’s Homeland. Prior to this, she spent SY 2019/2019 as a Filmmaker-in-Residence within SOC where she re-launched the Community Voice Project (CVP), which partners American University student filmmakers with DC-based non-profits to produce a short film series capturing voices of marginalized community residents.



Naoko Wowsugi

Naoko Wowsugi

Professorial Lecturer in Studio Art at the Department of Art

Naoko Wowsugi is a community-engaged artist of Korean-Japanese descent. Using combined practices of visual art, local research, and community participation, Wowsugi’s projects highlight and fortify everyday communal and interpersonal identities.

Group Portrait Journey in DC

With the current political climate, there is a strong need to showcase our connection with people of all kinds, rather than what separates us. Group Portrait Journey in D.C. is a series of group portraits that will visually trace the intersectional nature of personal identity and our intangible connections as one large community in Washington, DC.

The goal of the project is to document a series of social groups in formal portraits over the course of a year that will visually show how, through one individual, diverse groups within the city are connected to one another. In the process, the project will explore what we mean by the word “group” and invite participants to elaborate on their own notions of belonging—and perhaps surprise viewers by showing how many social roles one person can occupy. The project is part documentary, part archive, part participatory, and part community art.

2018-2019

The 2018-2019 Truck Fellows Projects share a theme “Dwelling and Mobility.”  The truck is mobile, yet it has the capacity to create dwellings in places such parks, streets, parking lots, and sidewalks as it parks and sets up its portable tent, chairs, and tables and people gather to watch films, create art, and sit down and engage in deep reflections about their personal experiences.  The initial projects focus on communities of people where the tensions between dwelling and mobility are especially poignant, including people experiencing homeless, recent immigrants to the region, residents in neighborhoods undergoing or threatened by significant transitions and dislocations.

Benjamin Stokes

Benjamin Stokes

Assistant Professor School of Communication

Benjamin Stokes is a civic media scholar and designer at American University with the Game Lab and in the School of Communication (SOC). His designs for cities have introduced neighbors through play, and retold local history with rebuilt payphones. Previously, Benjamin co-founded Games for Change, the movement hub for advancing social change with games. Benjamin’s publications include research on participatory design, neighborhood storytelling, and urban mapping by bicycle.

Learn more about Benjamin from his website and follow @bgstokes.

Neighborhood Storytelling System: New Ways to Circulate Community Voices and Shared History

This project investigates how the truck can be part of a “storytelling system” for neighborhoods, including to bring museum content to the streets. We feature stories from the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (ACM), and its anniversary exhibit “A Right to The City.”  We connect the truck to residents’ cell phones, paper maps, and even custom phone booths to record new stories. We are investigating how strong neighborhoods can tell their own stories by connecting platforms, especially physical to digital. In partnership with the DC Public Library and with funding from the ACM, the truck will anchor a series of activities and events around the city, each tied to neighborhood history and identity.



Community History Snapshots

In the Spring of 2019, graduate students from American University’s M.A. Program in Public History will work with Project Partners to create, develop, and document four Community History Snapshots that put the present and the past into conversation with one another. A Snapshot is a part of the community’s past that speaks directly to its present: in Cleveland Park, the historic Park N’ Shop site is central to a conversation about the nature of the neighborhood and today’s retail landscape and. As we approach the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, a new generation of student activists at American University are curious about its history. In Tenleytown, neighbors are learning about Reno City, a vibrant African American community that was eradicated in the 1930s. In Shepherd Park, white and black residents formed Neighbors Inc. and fought against blockbusting practices. Today, neighbors continue to work to build a strong sense of community.

MJ Rymsza-Pawlowska

MJ Rymsza-Pawlowska

Assistant Professor of History

MJ Rymsza-Pawlowska grew up in D.C. and is thrilled to be living and working here! An assistant professor in AU’s Department of History, MJ is interested in popular history, form, and representation, MJ ‘s research asks how our understanding and portrayal of the past changes alongside larger cultural shifts. Her first book, History Comes Alive: Public History and Popular Culture in the 1970s was published in 2017, and she is currently in the beginning stages of a new project, tentatively called Burying Our Feelings about time capsules in the twentieth century. As Associate Director of the Grad Program in Public History, MJ’s interdisciplinary teaching and practice revolves around exhibition and interpretation—she is currently developing a Humanities Truck project called Community History Snapshots: students in her Public History Practicum will work with community partners to highlight the way that Washington’s built environment has been changing. MJ is also involved with DC’s local history community; she has written for Washington History magazine, and is on the Planning Committee of the 45th Annual DC History Conference.

Follow @malgorzatar   Social-Truck_twitter 

View the Community History Snapshots StoryMap. Community History Snapshots StoryMap Screenshot



Dan Kerr

Dan Kerr

Humanities Truck Director | Associate Professor of History

When he dreamed of being a truck driver as a child, Kerr never envisioned himself driving the Humanities Truck.  But who knew how much fun that could be?  Working alongside other visionaries at American University, Kerr, an associate professor of history at AU, spearheaded and now directs the Humanities Truck Project.  He is an active community and oral historian committed to the democratization of knowledge production.  He is the Past President of the Oral History Association and directs American University’s Public History program.  Since his earliest work with the Cleveland Homeless History Project, he has sought out ways to bring the oral histories he has collected back to the communities they originated from.  Through community workshops, participants in his projects have collectively reflected upon and interpreted the gathered stories. He is currently working on the Mobilizing Against Homelessness project, which seeks to document and amplify the voices, perspectives, and analysis of those currently experiencing homelessness.

Whose Downtown? The Past and Future of the Federal City Shelter

Sitting two blocks from the Capitol building, sits one of the nation’s largest homeless shelters, which houses up to 1300 people a night in a World War II era building that was originally constructed by the federal government as part of an alley dwelling clearance policy.  The shelter, as well as the building that houses it, have long and storied histories that are intertwined with national urban renewal and homeless assistance polices.  Proposals, however, are calling for the demolition of the building for private redevelopment in 2021. The Whose Downtown? project will bring the truck to the shelter, document the experiences of the residents, share these experiences with other residents, and use the truck space as a workshop to reflect on the past and future of the shelter so that the residents can engage more effectively with the planning processes that will dramatically impact their lives.  This project will continue through the duration of the grant and will document what could potentially be the last years in this iconic shelter’s existence.



Invisible Hands: Jornaleros/Manos Invisibles: Day Laborers

Invisible Hands: Jornaleros/Manos Invisibles: Day Laborers is a group exhibition of ten day laborers who photographed their own everyday lives as jornaleros using their cell phone cameras. Through their eyes, the day laborers’ goal was to open an invisible yet all too present world to us; to take us through their day, to share their reality, one that for some is hopefully temporary but for others is a whole way of life. Put together, the photos take us from morning to evening and all that happens in between. This exhibit first took place at the Katzen Museum at American University. The Humanitites Truck has made it possible to take the exhibit into the community. First successful stop, the corner of the only Home Depot in DC.

The exhibit was organized by American University Prof. Ludy Grandas and Arturo Griffiths, Executive Director, Trabajadores Unidos of Washington, DC, in collaboration between American University students, faculty and staff, Trabajadores Unidos of Washington, DC. It was sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures, the Studio Art Program, the College or Arts and Sciences, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Humanities Truck.

Ludy Grandas

Ludy Grandas

Senior Professorial Lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures

Ludy Grandas is a senior professorial lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures. Her teaching focuses primarily on nation and state formation in Latin America, Studies of Culture in Latin America, the Studies of Culture in Hispanic populations in the US, as well as Spanish Language. Her research interests include labor, immigrant labor, cultural studies as practiced in Latin America. For the last few years, she has been collaborating with the Latin American day laborer community in Washington, DC. She has led Community Based Learning Courses which connect AU students to these specific populations.



Adrienne Pine

Adrienne Pine

Associate Professor of Anthropology | Director, Health Inequity & Care Program

Adrienne Pine is a critical medical anthropologist who—despite a general aversion to cars—once drove a truck from Berkeley to Tegucigalpa. While most of her work has examined the embodied impacts of violent and racist U.S. policy abroad, she has recently shifted her focus dramatically to examine the embodied impacts of violent, racist U.S policy in the DMV. She is delighted to be on the Humanities Truck team.

Historic African River Road Project

The Historic African River Road Project is a collaboration between students and faculty of the AU anthropology department and Montgomery County, MD communities originally founded during the Reconstruction Era by free and formerly-enslaved people of African descent. Begun as a class project aimed at using the tools of ethnography to support the River Road, Scotland and Tobytown communities in their struggles against displacement and the desecration of their cemeteries, it has grown into a collaborative effort to document and celebrate the rich histories of these communities on a larger scale. In 2018, the AU Library Archives opened its Historic African River Road Connections (HARRC) Collection. In 2019, project participants are excited to make use of the Humanities Truck in the interactive, on-site analysis and curation of community documents, artifacts, and oral histories, and in conducting other forms of ethnographic research in preparation for curating the Summer 2019 Katzen Museum Historic African River Road exhibit.



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