Posted 12:52 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, 2022
The concept of everyday people sharing their location-based stories sparks interest from abroad
The UW-La Crosse History Department’s Hear, Here project has jumped across the pond this spring — engaging communities in one of Europe’s smallest countries.
Thomas Cauvin, an associated professor of public history at the University of Luxembourg, wanted to bring Hear, Here to the city of Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, after learning of the unique way to communicate history through multiple narratives, including voices that are normally overlooked.
The city launched the project in April as one of five, grant-funded public history outreach activities to create multiple ways to engage the community in history, explains Joëlla van Donkersgoed, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Luxembourg who is coordinating the project. The project is named “HistorEsch,” the Luxembourgish word for “historically.”
"History is often written from the point of view of the rich and educated, and most of our stories and the things we do [in Esch-sur-Alzette] are about worker and migrant history,” says van Donkersgoed. “These are histories that really matter to the people who live here.”
Luxembourg is the second international location to develop a Hear, Here project, after London, Ontario, Canada.
The basis of the original Hear, Here project, developed by UWL History Professor Ariel Beaujot and her students in 2015, is that everyday people with different perspectives share in the telling of local history. The project provides audio recordings of stories from people of all backgrounds at specific downtown La Crosse locations. They are accessed by dialing a toll-free number at orange street signs.
Since 2015, the Hear, Here project has branched out to include many more stories, poetry and partnerships with other UWL departments, K-12 education and community organizations. It also won two national awards, one in the U.S. and one in Canada, as well as a provincial award in Ontario.
Beaujot is excited the project is not only being replicated but also expanded, with the implementation of multiple languages in the Luxembourg city. Because Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg is multilingual, sitting on the border of France and Luxembourg, the audio recordings will be available in three different languages: Luxembourgish, French, and English. In La Crosse, audio site recordings are recorded in English only thus far.
A blast furnace is the first stop in HistorEsch
Esch-Sur-Alzette, Luxembourg will launch the project at five sites with historical significance in the city this year while it is the European Capital of Culture.
The first stop is at a blast furnace at Belval (industry terrain) at Esch-sur-Alzette, built in the late 1970s. This furnace and others have become a symbol for the Luxembourg steel industry. At the site, one former worker explains seeing the furnace and becoming nauseous.
“You became dizzy when you saw this monster. I thought to myself: take a hold of yourself, you have to work on it,” the worker explains.
Although the furnace was taken down in 1995 and a university campus now surrounds the facility, the listener can imagine the place through the narration of an everyday person and understand what life was like working there, instead of simply learning about the person who owned the facility.
Beaujot was “thrilled” to receive the email from van Donkersgoed with interest in expanding the project into Europe.
“I feel so honored and proud. It is so amazing for this project that came out this city to become so international,” says Beaujot. “This will help people understand the importance of history and their place in history, and that they are important.”
Recordings and translations from HistorEsch are freely accessible.
Hear, Here continues in downtown La Crosse
The plan is for the project to run for 10 years total, until 2025. Also, a half-developed project for Hear, Here North (in North La Crosse) with 28 stories from the Oral History Program (OHP) is in the works. It was put on hold due to the pandemic.
Hear, Hear has received awards from the American Association for State and Local History, Canadian Society for Digital Humanities, and the Architecture Conservancy of Ontario.
“They [students] are creating something that has become a national-award-winning project. So, while they are also writing term papers and taking exams and all of the things they do, they are also creating this thing that will affect and change the community.”- Ariel Beaujot, History
A new sister city connection in Luxembourg
A new Sister City relationship with Junglinster, Luxembourg, was approved by the La Crosse Common Council in 2021. This long-term partnership between the two communities was spearheaded by the La Crosse American Descendants Society. La Crosse has a strong connection to Luxembourg and Wisconsin has one of the largest populations of Luxembourg immigrants. This is La Crosse’s eighth sister city relationship.