The Flint Archaeology and Spatial History (FLASH) project invites people to explore Flint - from its first human inhabitants through today's communities - using data gathered by archaeologists, historians and geographers.
Finding New Ways to Explore the Past and Present in Flint, MI...
Flint, Michigan, is a city with a diverse past. Flint's first "residents" began living here here several thousand years ago ago, and the physical, social, economic, and political landscapes of this place have been continuously changing ever since. We can trace this change by gathering many threads of evidence from a variety of sources. This includes historical sources like old maps, official records like the census, published documents like city directories and newspapers, photographs, and personal accounts such as diaries or letters. We can also explore Flint using archaeological sources – physical remains and traces on the landscape that inform us about past people, places, and events that extend back in time from the present all the way to the first humans who lived on the banks of the Flint river thousands of years ago. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can explore Flint’s history through the heritage values present in the community – how people remember their past, how they define their identity, and how they communicate that identity to others both inside and outside Flint.
The FLASH project is aimed at gathering this information together for the Flint community in one easy-to-use digital location. The goal is not to provide the public with any one historical narrative about Flint; instead, the FLASH project is aimed at providing the community with a new way to explore their own heritage and tell their own stories using evidence from the past. Studying Flint's history, archaeology, and heritage values gives us several distinct views of Flint’s past, but each of these are often only explored or studied in isolation - and by experts - because much of this information can be difficult to access and explore. For example, while most historical records are technically “public” data, finding and reading it in government and university archives can be a lot of work for professional researchers, let alone curious members of the public. Access to archaeological data is often restricted to discourage looting or vandalism of sensitive archaeological sites. Finally, the heritage values of various communities within Flint may be underrepresented in official or popular histories of the town, especially in cases where historical narratives are bound up in ongoing social, economic, and political controversies – a common situation in postindustrial cities like Flint. Just as importantly, these different bodies of information about Flint’s past are often decontextualized from one another, scattered about in different repositories and formats.
The FLASH project has three facets: it is a digital research infrastructure, a collaborative research group, and a public portal for exploring Flint’s past. FLASH grew from an initial collaboration in 2019 between archaeologist Sue Alcock and archaeologist/historical GIS researcher Dan Trepal to construct a spatial, digital historical atlas of Flint showcasing underrepresented aspects of Flint's history. The team rapidly expanded to include a group of UM-Flint researchers from a variety of backgrounds who brought their expertise and community connections to bear on the project, and who showcase some of their research here on the FLASH project website. Still in its early stages, FLASH will continue to grow in size and scope as new digital datasets are added. Future plans also include the deployment of interactive digital exhibits rotating between heritage sites in Flint.
Dan Trepal (Project Lead)
An industrial archaeologist and geographer interested in postindustrial cities, The FLASH project is an outgrowth of Trepal's postdoctoral research in Flint.