“Mapping Memories” Book Release Celebrates Easton History

2015-05-07 13.29.59

Students Julianna Vuotto ’17, Marcus Vilme ’17, Kamani Christian ’17, and Dawit Blackwell ’17 check out the latest edition of  “Remembering the Taylor School and 4th and Lehigh Neighborhood.” 

Professor Andrea Smith’s “Rebuilding Shattered Worlds through Recollection” (A&S 244) class gave a special presentation of their final project at the Sigal Museum. This semester, the class contributed to the ongoing digital public history project “Lebanese Town,” and have been busy interviewing local residents and collecting photographs and memorabilia from former residents of Easton’s Lebanese neighborhood that was lost to urban renewal in the 1960s. The students were able to share their work with the contributors in a collected edition of their stories.


Julie Vuotto ’17 presents her chapter 

The book is a compilation of research conducted across several years and two semesters of student research. This year’s class was able to draw on the previous class’s research to create multi-faceted chapters and to expand the earlier research. Their additions include a chapter on the Italian-American residents, additional sections to chapters on the African-American experience, childhood, and a chapter on home remedies and cures handed down from the old world, and the class’ favorite new chapter, “Consumption in Yesteryear” that brings together all of the stories of the specialty food like the local lemon ice and boiled peanuts and the various ‘mom and pop shops’ that populated the neighborhood. These are the moments in the interviews where the residents’ memories are clear and marked by a joyous nostalgia for their childhood.

2015-05-07 13.06.55

Easton resident and project contributor Sonja Shaheen

This enthusiastic nostalgia was evident in yesterday’s presentation. As each image appeared on the screen, the audience delighted in seeing their own photos included in the project. Every image sparked a renewed discussion of the content, with each person reconstructing the story told in the photo from their memories. All of the contributors got to take home a copy of the book signed by the student authors.

The book is the first stage of the larger Lebanese Town digital project. Since many of the residents are now in their 70s and 80s, they felt that a book would be a better medium for sharing this work with their families. The larger digital project is currently under development with Digital Scholarship Services. Professor Smith has been working closely with DSS’ Visual Resources Curator Paul Miller to collect, scan, and catalogue all of the materials the students have collected. These photos and stories will then be pinned to the digitized map of Easton from 1919 before this section of town was razed, to create a holistic view of the neighborhood. To learn more about the project visit our previous post.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.52.31 PM

1919 map of Lebanese Town

For the students this process has been a unique experience, one that made them feel closer to their new home in Easton and that has fostered great relationships between the students and the residents. “I’ve never worked on a project like this,” says Marcus Vilme ’17. “It’s a great feeling to know that my work is now part of something bigger than my class. Unlike a term paper that will get read maybe once or twice, this project has contributed to something that the whole community benefits from.” The residents’ excitement in seeing their own stories preserved and their appreciation for the students’ hard work was a better reward than any grade.

For more information on starting a digital project with DSS or applying for an internship opportunity contact us at digital@lafayette.edu, or call (610) 330-5796.

Professor Andrea Smith and DSS capture Easton history in community “scan-a-thon”

Easton residents joined students from Professor Andrea Smith’s Social Memory class to contribute to the ongoing digital public history project “Lebanese Town.” Together with DSS’s Visual Resources Curator Paul Miller, Smith and her students collected and scanned photographs, post cards, and memorabilia from the Easton community. The project aims to reconstruct Easton’s Lebanese neighborhood that was lost to urban renewal in the 1960s. The materials collected today will be added to the growing archive that seeks to preserve the memory of this eclectic, diverse neighborhood.


Professor Smith and students from her Social Memory class set up their materials.

Professor Smith has been working on this project in her classes since 2008 and with her students she has compiled the stories into a book that the contributors help to edit and add to over time. The project has now grown into a digital project where these stories, images and photographs will be included on an interactive map. To learn more about the larger project see our previous post about our latest digital humanities projects.

This week’s event was the second “scan-a-thon” Professor Smith has held to help collect local materials. Over the years she has amassed a mailing list of residents who once lived in Lebanese Town who now often attend events not only to bring additional materials for the collection but to reminisce about their time together in the neighborhood.


Students record a contributor’s story and catalog her photos for Paul Miller to digitize.

These meetings give the students a unique view into Easton’s past as they get to hear stories of the town as it was decades ago. The contributors tell them how amazing the bread was at Leone’s Bakery, and recount old world remedies like curing whooping cough with kerosene or a headache with potato slices. Moreover, they remember Lebanese Town fondly as a close-knit community of friends and neighbors. As the residents talk, the networks and fibers of the community begin to emerge. With so many stories already collected, this term’s students are able to start pulling these threads together writing chapters that focus on shared experiences that can now be told from multiple perspectives. The latest version of the book will be presented to the contributors at a special event at the Sigal Museum on May 7th.

As this growing archive is made digitally accessible, this local history will reach a new audience of both contemporary Easton residents and the Lafayette community of students. Once launched, users will be able to add their own items to the map creating a rich exhibit for the entire Easton community.

For more information on starting a digital project with DSS or applying for an internship opportunity contact us at digital@lafayette.edu, or call (610) 330-5796.