University of Pittsburgh
Initiated by Mao Zedong (1893-1976) and lasting from 1966 to 1976, the Cultural Revolution in China has been defined as a 10-year disaster by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which caused civil unrest to the party, the state, and the people (CCP, 1981). Forty years after the end of the Cultural Revolution, with the intention to promote the public remembrance and discussion of this significant period of Chinese history, the East Asian Library at the University of Pittsburgh launched CR/10 (University of Pittsburgh, 2019), a digital oral history project that aims to collect and preserve authentic memories of the Cultural Revolution through 10-minute semi-structured interviews. Using the technique of snowball sampling for interviewee selection, the project has thus far collected more than 300 interviews with ordinary people from different generations, geographies, social and educational backgrounds who experienced the incident or learned about it from family, school, or other resources. Among all the interviewees, some currently live in the U.S. while some in China, whose everyday experiences post the Cultural Revolution may have exerted impacts on their individual memories. Most interviews were conducted in mandarin Chinese and were then translated into English as subtitles by the CR/10 team. All the interviews were video-recorded and made open-access on the interactive CR/10 website. The website consists of four major components: an introduction to the project, a trailer for the project that showcases interviews, a timeline and a map of China demonstrating the temporal and geographical distributions of the videos in the collection.In this paper, I treat the CR/10 website as the object of study and demonstrate its value as a digital public humanities site bridging the gap between the academy and the general public. Cox and Tilton (2019) defined the term “digital public humanities (DPH)” as practices that “facilitate reflection and collaboration with participants outside of the academy through digital theories and technologies” (p. 130). Focusing on interactive and mindful design (Drucker, 2013), the CR/10 website invites the public to participate in, as well as contributing to, developing a diversified and multifaceted understanding of the Cultural Revolution. In this study, I present a series of user experience research conducted regarding the design of the website with 15 users outside of the academy, to examine the current usability as well as to identify further design possibilities of the website. Through techniques of semi-structured contextual interviews and focus group study, this research study aims to reflect on the reception and use of the CR/10 website as an interactive teaching and learning platform, rather than solely a repository of collective memories or database of historical information. More specifically, I examine how the timeline and map features of the website enrich interpretations of the Cultural Revolution, especially in terms of inspiring users to reflect upon the following questions: How could the Cultural Revolution be defined? What factors (e.g., geography, generation, family, class backgrounds, and education) influence impressions and memories of the Cultural Revolution? Extending from the user experience research, this study also proposes recommendations to improve the design of the CR/10 website to create a collective “memory atlas” (Cornell University Library, 2013; Forster, 1976) out of the video collection. Findings of this study contribute to facilitating academy-public collaborations in building DPH sites from the user perspective and a design-mediated approach.
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