Thursday, August 20, 2009

Halifax history and crowd sourcing

I have spent the last two week in Halifax, making history posters about Halifax history, and wheat pasting those posters up in area the posters talk about. I have been doing a residency at the Roberts Street Social Centre, working on this project. It is based on a project where I have been doing the same thing in Toronto for many years, the Missing Plaque Project. I thought this would be a great moment to talk about a research technique I used to help with one of the posters I made a few years ago in Toronto.

A friend gave me a write up about a Halloween Riot of that took place in 1945 in the Beaches, a neighbourhood of Toronto. I now think the number was a little inflated but the article says there were 7000 youth rioting. It seemed like a great topic for a poster, I began researching it. After the riot a few newspaper stories had been written in the Toronto Star and Toronto Telegram. They did a fairly good job of explaining what happened at the riot, but did not explain the context. I was sure I only had part of the story. Despite exhaustive research I could not find any information that helped me figure out why youth in that era were so ready to riot.

My solution was to put up the poster anyways, but I included a paragraph saying I was sure i did not have the whole story, and asking for anyone who had more information to get in touch with me. I did not know the term at the time, but what i did was crowd sourcing. Basically crowd sourcing is putting out an open call to an undefined large group of people, in this case looking for more information. It is a great research technique.

By putting up posters in the area the riot had taken place I was targeting people in that area. Crowd sourcing isn't usually done through posters, but regardless of the medium, the principles are generally the same.

To finish my story, I got contacted by two people. One of them was a friend I was showing my posters too. It turns out he had written a play about street gangs in the 1940's and 50's. He helped me understand how youth who were too young to fight in World War II were living in the shadows of the returned veterans, with no chance to be Heroes and little chance of getting a job, since vets were given preference. I was also contacted by an old man who had been in the riot. He saw my poster and emailed me. We had coffee, and he helped me understand what the thinking of the youth was at the time of the riot.

You can follow this link to read the text of the poster.

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