Digital Library Seminar Series: 2013-03-14

This event is sponsored by the
Libraries Digital Program Division
and the
Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research.

It is free and open to the public. Registration is not required.


Designing Culture: Public Interactives and the Architecture of Intimacy
Lessons from the AIDS Memorial Quilt Digital Experience Project


Anne Balsamo

Dean of the School of Media Studies
New School for Public Engagement


"Epidemics, like wars, mark a generation for life."

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was created 25 years ago as a work of community activism to protest the appalling lack of attention by the US health agencies to what was then, in 1987, an increase in improbable fatalities among previously healthy gay men in the United States.  Its first inception unfolded in October 1987 on the National Mall in Washington DC as part of the March for Gay Rights; it included 1,920 Quilt panels.  Now 25 years later, the Quilt encompasses more than 48,000 panels, representing 60 countries and commemorating more than 93,000 names.   It is the largest living memorial of its kind in the world.

The Quilt is also an "activist archive" of the late 20th century.  The activities that gave rise to the Quilt in 1987 are part of the history of the campaign for gay and lesbian rights in the US. The Quilt literally stitches together a million memories, a million stories, a million lessons about the relationship between individual lives, public culture, and political activism.  In its textile form, it is an unwieldy archive.  If laid out in its entirety the Quilt would cover more than 1.3 million square feet.   It weighs more than 34 tons.

This presentation discusses the creation of an interactive memorial that was designed to augment the viewing of the textile Quilt.  Anne Balsamo will demonstrate three digital experiences:  1) an open-source mobile web application called AIDS QUILT TOUCH; 2) a tangible tabletop interactive that enables viewers to SEARCH the database of Quilt images to find a specific image and to BROWSE the archive of Quilt panel images; and 3) a community sourcing application that engages people in analyzing and archiving information about the Quilt.

This effort is framed by the speaker's recent transmedia book project called Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination At Work.  In creating the Quilt Digital Experiences she was interested in exploring the cultural work of public interactives, to examine how they are implicated in practices of cultural reproduction—remembering, witnessing, archiving, and educating. 


March 14, 2013




Noon - 1:30


203 Butler Library, Morningside Heights Campus, Columbia University