Digital Archive Captures Memories from Latest Hurricane Disasters

Posted: January 18, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

The compelling images and stories seared into the memories of all who lived through last year’s hurricanes will endure through an online hurricane archive. The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank: Preserving Stories from Katrina, Rita and Wilma uses electronic media to collect, preserve and present the stories and digital record of the devastating 2005 hurricane season.

George Mason’s Center for History and New Media (CHNM) and the University of New Orleans (UNO) created this digital history project in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and Gulf area partners, with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

By allowing the people affected by these storms to tell their stories, archivists hope to foster some positive legacies and assist historians and other archivists in preserving the record of current events.

First-hand accounts, on-scene images, blog postings, podcasts and other audio files are some of the materials being collected. All experiences related to the storms are sought, whether one was directly affected by the storms or served as a volunteer hundreds of miles away. Digital technology offers people the opportunity to record experiences in the moment, but many of those digital recordings are quickly discarded.

Homeowner looking at house wreckage
Homeowners discover the rubble left where their home stood in Pass Christian, Miss. seeks to save those creations in a permanent database for scholars and a wide audience for generations to come. Contributors also may phone 504-208-3883 to record their stories.

The hurricane archive builds on prior work to collect and preserve history online, especially through CHNM’s ECHO science and technology history project and the September 11 Digital Archive, which gathered more than 150,000 digital objects related to the attacks. The Library of Congress permanently houses those materials. Both projects are part of a growing practice of using the Internet to preserve the past through “digital memory banks.”

Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history and incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.

Facing massive challenges following Hurricane Katrina, the University of New Orleans resumed its fall 2005 semester last October with a combination of online and on-site courses offered on satellite campuses. UNO is sponsoring projects to identify, record and alleviate the effects of Katrina on the citizens of Louisiana. An important goal of the university is to provide appropriate physical and electronic venues for storing and disseminating the collected data as the Gulf Coast rebuilds.

Highlights from the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank


  • “As with every other hurricane, I decided to stay, thinking it was a false alarm.”
  • “When the power returned Monday night, we saw the news coverage of New Orleans. The city that I had come to love in the 10 years that I lived there looked like it would never be livable again.”
  • “No words could adequately describe what I actually saw in Pass Christian. After his visit, my brother-in-law Trey reported that “the walls were blown out.” I couldn’t grasp what he meant until I saw it and discovered he meant just what he said: There are large sections of walls that are just gone – the interior sheetrock is gone; the exterior siding is gone.”
  • “The first thing we did when we arrived for cleanup was try to figure out what furniture could be saved. Then I started pushing mud off of the patio. There was three to four inches of that muck everywhere.”


Girl walking through piles of clothes left by hurricane
A child walks through piles of clothes strewn by the hurricane in Slidell, La.
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank photos

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