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The Secret History of American River People

An Anthro-Historical Research Journey Through the History of a River

Secret History is a journey to discover, present, and connect the lost narratives of working-class river communities from the deck of a recreated shantyboat that serves as both the vehicle for this journey and the project library and archive.

We are currently on the Mississippi River searching for stories of river life. You can follow our progress downriver.

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Or follow our almost daily updates via email, RSS, Twitter, and Instagram.

Using audio, video, and digital media, Secret History archives and presents oral histories of major American rivers, including the lost stories of river people, river communities, and the river itself, as well as the personal chronicle of my research journey. It will use digital and social media to present and connect river people and and their stories to those far from the river.

The first stage of the project seeks to gather and present the narratives of lost river communities on an archetypal American journey along the upper Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri.

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People’s History Expedition on Upper Mississippi: A Reportback

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A Secret History of American River People from the deck of a traditional shantyboat

Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes built a traditional shantyboat with the help of friends to float down American rivers to gather the lost stories of river people. He and his crew just returned from the Mississippi where they spent part of the summer interviewing dozens of people who work and live on the river. The collection will serve as an archive for future scholars as well as be publicly-accessible online. When not on the river, the shantyboat itself serves as the project library and archive and will be temporarily sited at museums and galleries starting with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in November.

On September 11th 2014 he will offer a reportback on the journey, with photos, video, and reportbacks from the rest of the crew.

Secret History Expedition Reportback
September 11, 2014 at 7pm
SubRosa Community Space
703 Pacific Ave, Downtown Santa Cruz

In late July, after an epic cross-country journey, California artists Wes Modes and Kai Dalgleish launched the shantyboat on the Mississippi River starting in Minneapolis. They floated for five weeks over several hundred river miles, stopping in big and little town to interview river people. The journey is detailed in the project website at http://peoplesriverhistory.us/

Secret History is an art and history journey to discover, present, and connect the lost narratives of working-class river communities from the deck of a recreated shantyboat. A few generations ago, communities of shantyboats, or rustic houseboats, lined the banks of the river in every river town in America. Now they are mostly gone and soon the stories will be lost as well. The project is an attempt to capture some of these stories.

Undergraduate Film and Digital Media Production Opportunity

With a Graduate Student in the UCSC Digital Art and New Media Program

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The Secret History of American River People project includes a collected archive of lost narratives of working class river communities gathered during the summer of 2014 from the deck of a recreated shantyboat that serves as the project library and archive. Using audio, video, and digital media, Secret History presents oral histories of major American rivers, including the lost stories of river people, river communities, and the river itself, as well as the personal chronicle of my research journey. It will use digital and social media to present and connect river people and and their stories to those far from the river.  Please check out the project at peoplesriverhistory.us

This independent study provides a focused research experience as we analyze the Secret History archive from a post-modern historical standpoint and present the archive through film/video and new media. 5- and 2-unit independent studies are available.

Working as a team in an interdisciplinary environment, students will work closely with the grad student to catalog, edit video, audio, and text, and create web content resulting in a new media work presenting the Secret History archive. Students are encouraged to bring diverse interests and skills, as each team member will uniquely contribute to the final product, including video production experience, drawing, web development, new media development, historical research, library science, and project management. Organization, creativity, enthusiasm, and passion for documentary film-making are musts.

Please send

  1. a letter of interest
  2. what draws you to the project, and
  3. a summary of your relevant experience

to Wes Modes at wmodes@ucsc.edu.

Thanks for considering being part of the team to produce this important work.

the lost narratives of river people, river communities, and the river itself