Boston, MA: by Molly Callahan Northeastern University – Five years on, revisiting the digital archive created after the Boston Marathon bombing is still part of the healing process for those who curated it.

“It feels like you’re touching a wound,” said Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, one of the archive’s primary investigators. “It’s painful. While there are a lot of wonderful stories that came out of that event—stories of people helping each other, of first responders saving lives—you can still feel that visceral experience of shock, pain, grieving, and loss that people encountered.”

Dillon, along with many others, sprang into action after the bombing on April 15, 2013 that killed three and injured hundreds more. An English professor at Northeastern, she was part of a team of students and faculty who collected and preserved the stories of that day and everything that followed in a project called “Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive.”

It was grueling work, both physically and emotionally. The archivists canvased the streets and attended related events to spread word of the project and invite the community to contribute to the thousands of stories, photos, videos, oral histories, social media, and other materials in the collection.

That emphasis on story is part of what makes this digital archive unique. In addition to the collaboration that made it possible, the archive was conceived of and created by researchers in the humanities—by English scholars.

“We think a lot about how stories matter, about who’s telling stories, and who’s listening,” Dillon said. “We have a grounded interest in storytelling that inherently connected with this community event. Our guiding idea is in the title of the archive: ‘Our Marathon.’ It’s a collective storytelling, and in that sense it provides a snapshot of a community that is rich and textured.”

The digital archive was recently transferred to the university’s digital repository so others could see and utilize the resources, a healing process in and of itself, Cordell said.

“That’s been an interesting transition to think through,” he said. “It’s new to think about this as a historical event rather than a contemporary event that people are actively reflecting upon.”

Northeastern Boston Bombing Our Marathon Archive.

Five years after the Boston Marathon bombing, a lot has changed. The memorial in Copley Square has been tucked away. A new crop of runners will toe the starting line this Monday. The blue and yellow #BostonStrong signs, once ubiquitous, are harder to spot throughout the year.

It’s not that the memories, the trauma, the signs of support are gone—they’ve just changed shape though the intervening years. Perhaps the edges have softened, the colors have faded, or the stories have taken on a new context. Perhaps not.

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