Have you ever visited a monument -- to a person, event, or idea? What did you do while you were there? What did other people do? How did you know how to behave or what to do? Hmm...never given it much thought? Christine Scales '14 has.
"It's called participatory memory," she explains. "Participatory memory describes the ways in which people interact with a space in order to remember, commemorate, or pay homage to an event, person, or idea." Think of what you might think or do while visiting the Lincoln Memorial, a Holocaust memorial, a cemetery, or the site of a famous battle. "These spaces often have unwritten 'rules' or 'traditions'", Christine says. "It's not like the government or an organization dictates specific things that visitors should do." Instead, visitors' responses to these spaces are often collective, unorganized, even spontaneous. "Over fifteen years after Princess Diana's death, people still visit the spot where she died and leave flowers and other momentos in her honor." A happier example may be found on the Ponte Milvio in Rome, where couples attach padlocks to the bridge and toss the key in the river as a sign of their commitment.
Christine's research focuses on where, why, and how people engage in participatory memory. "I want to identify spaces where this is happening, and create a digital tool that we can use to help preserve and archive how these spaces are used." Her research took her to the village of Bath and the site of a school bombing in 1927 that killed or injured over 100 people. "In the process of researching the tragedy, I generated and curated an extensive online archive of information uding an online information management site called diigo." She is currently working with Dr. Liza Potts (Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures) and a graduate student to develop a prototype app to make this information available to visitors.
Like many of the undergraduate researchers profiled on this page, a nudge from a professor helped open the door to research opportunities. "I took a class with Dr. Potts. She mentioned the project on participatory memory and said she was looking for someone to help out." As a Humanities major, Christine initially wasn't sure if or how research would fit in the picture. "Working with Dr. Potts, I've learned that research is much more than running experiences or reading books. I've learned all sorts of interesting things, including how to work with a team to develop a solution to a real-world issue."
Christine chose to come to MSU for lots of great reasons. "As a third-generation Spartan, Michigan State is in my blood," she laughs. "However, the real reason I chose MSU over other schools was because of all the incredible opportunities State has. The fact that I was able to get a research position in my second year is amazing!" Christine was also impressed by MSU's study abroad program. "I'll be in Greece this summer studying art and archeology."
When asked for advice for other undergraduate students considering research, Christine is encouraging. "It's not as intimidating as it might sound. I had a ton of support from my faculty mentor and was able to research at my own pace in my own interests. There's a ton of opportunities to do research at MSU, even in the humanities. Don't be afraid to see what's out there for you!"