Rice U.’s new Harvey Memories Project preserves digital artifacts of the ‘first social media storm’


David Ruth

Katharine Shilcutt

Rice U.’s new Harvey Memories Project preserves digital artifacts of the ‘first social media storm’

HOUSTON — (July 23, 2018) — A new digital archive at Rice University aims to prevent the loss of valuable Hurricane Harvey-related memories by preserving them within the university’s digital collections with professional precision.

Arun Chaudhary, “Man in Camouflage Waders with Head in Hands,” Harvey Memories Project

Arun Chaudhary, “Man in Camouflage Waders with Head in Hands,” Harvey Memories Project

The Harvey Memories Project is one of several projects awarded funding by the Rice Houston Engagement and Recovery Effort last year. The goal of the project is to build an open-access digital repository to collect, preserve and publish community-contributed memories of the storm in multiple formats, including photos of storm preparations and cleanup, audio and video recordings of the storm in progress, survivors’ narratives and even art.

“Everyone was on social media during Hurricane Harvey,” said Caleb McDaniel, associate professor of history and one of the eight Rice collaborators on the project. “It was probably the most digitally mediated natural disaster in U.S. history.” Time Magazine called the August 2017 hurricane the nation’s “first social media storm.”

But, said McDaniel, “digital memories can also be lost.” And so, inspired by such projects as the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (HDMB), which houses artifacts from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Boston Marathon bombing digital archive Our Marathon, the Harvey Memories Project was created.

Brandy McDaniel, “Emergency Alerts,” Harvey Memories Project

Brandy McDaniel, “Emergency Alerts,” Harvey Memories Project

There are over 25,000 items in the HDMB collection; accumulated photos and videos taken by Gulf Coast residents during Harvey easily reach that number. “You don’t want all that stuff to get lost and never preserved or archived in a way that future generations can access and learn from,” said McDaniel.

“That’s where librarians come in,” said Lisa Spiro, executive director of digital scholarship services for Rice University’s Fondren Library. Any photos, videos, oral histories or other digital donations to the Harvey Memories Project will be professionally processed, cataloged and archived at Rice. Online, the archive is both permanent and easily accessible.

“We’re the stacks, there for people to explore in an unstructured way,” McDaniel said.

In addition to soliciting contributions from the entire Gulf Coast community — anyone affected by Hurricane Harvey is invited to share their memories, not just Houstonians — Spiro and the team are planning outreach events at local libraries and community centers to reach those whose stories have not yet been shared or heard.

Lisa S., “JJ Watt Sign in Front of Flooded House,” Harvey Memories Project

Lisa S., “JJ Watt Sign in Front of Flooded House,” Harvey Memories Project

In the meantime, the Harvey Memories Project is open for those who are in search of a place to tell their own tales. Many of those affected by the storm have only recently begun to get back on their feet, let alone process or preserve the memories of what happened when 30 trillion gallons of water fell along the Gulf Coast.

“We also hope that this will help people to heal,” Spiro said.

For more information about the Harvey Memories Project or to share your own digital memories, visit harveymemories.org.


Follow Fondren Library on Twitter @FondrenLibrary.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations on Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Harvey Memories Project: harveymemories.org.

Image for download: https://harveymemories.org/items/show/185

Image for download: https://harveymemories.org/items/show/41

Image for download: https://harveymemories.org/items/show/33

Fondren Library: http://library.rice.edu.

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,970 undergraduates and 2,934 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for quality of life and for lots of race/class interaction and No. 2 for happiest students by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.