Humanities Truck

Organizer: Dan Kerr

How do we mobilize the humanities? The Humanities Truck working group seeks to establish an experimental mobile platform for collecting and preserving materials, and inspiring dialog around the humanities.  The truck will provide resources and equipment for projects that document experiences, start conversations, and share the stories of diverse and underserved communities in the Washington, DC Metropolitan region.  It will function as a mobile workshop, recording studio, and exhibit space that can be driven across the region to work with specific micro-communities across the city in the spaces they already gather.

The DC Humanities Truck Project, directed by MPC Fellow Daniel Kerr, recently received a $225,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.  The grant will fund the purchasing and outfitting of a box truck, which will be customized to serve as a mobile recording studio and workshop and exhibit space.  Additionally it will fund the first three years of truck operations and collaborative community projects.  The truck project will position AU as a leading institution supporting and enhancing collaborative, community based research, teaching, and scholarship.  We expect the truck to arrive on campus early in the fall semester of 2018.

Upcoming Projects: Dwelling and Mobility

Beyond Neighborhood: A Game for Listening on Streets (Benjamin Stokes)

This project will investigate how the truck can catalyze physical movement for visitors, from the truck into nearby streets where they can interact with the history of the surroundings. The project will use the beacons to provide location based content that visitors will be able to access and interact with through their phones.  The phones will be linked to the truck, which sends them on guided explorations of specific streets, monuments, and locations for spatial storytelling.  The project will focus on the Anacostia waterway, work in collaboration with the Anacostia Community Museum, and engage the predominantly African-American neighborhoods bordering both sides of the Anacostia River.

The D.C. W.I.C. Work/Shop (Erin Bernard)

The D.C. W.I.C. Work/Shop will employ a team of three women currently on W.I.C. to interview the community of W.I.C. (women, W.I.C. staff, grocery store employees, policy makers, food activists) to document the lived experience of W.I.C. in the nation’s capital.  Together, Bernard and her team will collaborate to create a small grocery store style circular to share their findings in both oral history interviews and archival research.  The truck will serve as a space for oral history interviews at W.I.C.-related sites, a mini exhibition space, and a central locale for a culminating project event.

Streetscapes Then/Now (Malgorzata J. Rymsza-Pawlowska)

This project will include a series of community public history events where archival streetscape photographs will be projected onto the side of the Humanities Truck parked at the appropriate geographical locations: we would choose those locations that have experienced rapid change and that are easily accessible by Metro and public transportation.  The selected locations and photographs will connect outward to larger themes in the history of DC. One of the key goals of the project is to call attention to the shifting built environment: the way that, in the last fifty years especially, entire Washington neighborhoods have been razed and replaced by new buildings. While some longtime residents have been displaced, others remain, living alongside, but not especially interacting with newer residents, who, for their part, lack historical awareness of these changes. Streetscapes Then/Now would help to create spaces for community conversations about these shifts.

Whose Downtown? The Past and Future of the Federal City Shelter (Dan Kerr)

Sitting two blocks from the Capitol building, sits one of the nation’s largest homeless shelters, which houses up to 1300 people a night in a World War II era building that was originally constructed by the federal government as part of an alley dwelling clearance policy.  The shelter, as well as the building that houses it, have long and storied histories that are intertwined with national urban renewal and homeless assistance polices.  Proposals, however, are calling for the demolition of the building for private redevelopment in 2021. The Whose Downtown? project will bring the truck to the shelter, document the experiences of the residents, share these experiences with other residents, and use the truck space as a workshop to reflect on the past and future of the shelter so that the residents can engage more effectively with the planning processes that will dramatically impact their lives.  This project will continue through the duration of the grant and will document what could potentially be the last years in this iconic shelter’s existence.

Americana: Stories of Immigration from DC’s Streets (Kara Andrade)

The Americana project will utilize the Humanities Truck to collect and share stories related to immigration to better understand the local realities that shape the immigration experience in Washington, DC. Students helping to run the truck will collect recorded oral narratives from different parts of DC.  Importantly, we would not limit our focus to one ethnic group or nationality but broaden it to capture the full tapestry of the American experience, from stories of the old to those of young new arrivals, and from communities with predominantly Latino roots to those from sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. We’ll plot these stories on an interactive map and partner with local nonprofits and media to hold listening circles for these stories. We’ll also generate at least one feature-length story per month for every part of DC we cover.


Interested in Joining?

Email Dan Kerr at