Ethnic Layers of Detroit Geostories

Ethnic Layers of Detroit (ELD)
is an interdisciplinary digital humanities project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and focused on experiencing place through digital storytelling.

The historical case studies and “sites” involved in ELD are focused on the past two centuries of ethnic history in Detroit, beginning with the waves of mass immigration that occurred in the mid-19th century. These places range from familiar landmarks like Harmonie Park to hidden histories like those found in the Speakeasy underneath Tommy’s Bar on 3rd Street. To watch our digital stories, visit our project website. 


Formed at Wayne State in 2012, the ELD project is co-directed by Krysta Ryzewski and colleagues from the Foreign Language and Technology Center and the Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. ELD is focused on documenting the overlapping layers of ethnic and cultural histories in the city’s downtown neighborhoods through the integration of humanities research (history, literature, archaeology), digital media, and mobile technologies.

Ethnic Layers of Detroit is a grassroots approach to digital storytelling.  Currently, many of the stories about Detroit are told from an outside or official perspective. In working with WSU students (most of whom are locally-based) and community groups (via our Advisory Board) in creating these geostories, we aim to give voice to Detroiters past and present, and illustrates the many perspectives of the city’s urban dynamics.

Funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Start-up Grant, ELD’s offers a growing collection of digital community stories publicly available via a free mobile and multimedia web portal. As an interactive and digital mode of engagement, the geolocational aspect of the project allows mobile users to learn about Detroit’s cultural history at places where they can explore virtually the connections between peoples, practices and the urban built environment. As a pedagogical tool, the ELD is being integrated into research and experientially-based learning activities in several WSU classes taught by the research team leaders.

NEH Logo MASTER_082010

ELD Project Leaders (in alphabetical order):

Dr. Sangeetha Gopalakrishnan, Foreign Language Technology Center, (NEH Co-Principal Investigator)

Dr. Alina Klin, Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (Polish), (NEH Project Co-Director)

Dr. Laura Kline, Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (Russian), (NEH Project Co-Director)

Dr. Julie Koehler, Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (German),(NEH Project Student Assistant)

Dr. Felecia Lucht, University of Wisconsin, (NEH Co-Principal Investigator)

Dr. Krysta Ryzewski, Department of Anthropology, (NEH Principal Investigator)

ELD Advisory Board and Collaborators

College of Library and Information Sciences, Wayne State University

Detroit Historical Society

Detroit Labs

Detroit Polish-American Historical Society

Detroit Polar Bear Memorial Association

Goethe-Institut, New York

Humanities Center, Wayne State University

Michigan Public Radio (NPR)

The Polish Times / Czas Polski

Preservation Detroit