Hear, Here: Voices of Downtown La Crosse

Public and Policy History Major, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse; Downtown Main Street, Inc.; Special Collections, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse; La Crosse Public Library Archives; and the Heritage Preservation Commission, the City of La Crosse
La Crosse, WI

Hear, Here: Voices of Downtown La Crosse is a location-based mobile phone documentary project about downtown La Crosse that uses street-level signs to share local stories with visitors and citizens. Comprising a true people’s history of the city, these stories change the way people think about La Crosse, its inhabitants, and their part in the larger historical narrative by bringing the archives out into the streets. By listening to the experiences of others in the locations where these events occurred, community members deepen their understanding of each other and the issues that shape their lives.

Hear, Here strives to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, recruiting stories from those whose perspectives are often left out of traditional histories. The voices of the homeless, immigrant groups, the Ho-Chunk Nation, the LGBT community, and others come together to represent the diversity of La Crosse life and experiences. Accessibility was also a primary concern: they purposely chose the most basic mobile technology, without QR codes or GIS software, for this project so stories can be retrieved on any cell phone by calling a toll-free number at any time. Hear, Here also gives tours at such downtown events as La Crosse Area Bicycle Festival, Historic Downtown Day, and Artspire, and makes maps and explanations of the project available to all at the Visitors Bureau, Downtown Main Street Inc., and the local library.
The Hear, Here website complements the project by providing access to stories for those who cannot visit the sites, as well as provides interview transcriptions. Hear, Here has had a wide reach: the website shows international engagement with people from 102 countries visiting and exploring the stories, and the phone system shows 2,560 calls in the first 7 months.

This project involved tremendous partnerships among the city, university, public library, and preservation and downtown business groups that helped each organization support their diverse missions of relevance and awareness.  It provides University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Policy and Public History students with training in the digital humanities, public history, economic development, and heritage tourism. Additionally, Hear, Here utilizes a crowdsourcing approach, accepting story submissions and training others on how to gather and document oral history, to expand the project and increase its relevance to the community. By presenting diverse and authentic local stories, Hear, Here has become a catalyst for discussions of race and diversity in La Crosse.