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Central Florida Pulse: The Tragedy of Place and the Power of Activism

June 12, 2016 marks the day that the 21st century LGBT community was shaken to its core and we as Americans were confronted with yet another reminder of the hatred, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness running so rampant in our society. The massacre that took place at Orlando’s renowned Pulse nightclub in the early hours of the morning would claim the lives of 49 before sunrise. The Pulse shooting wasn’t just a terrorist attack or a hate crime. It was the single deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in United States history, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the US since September 11, 2001.

The O’Neill/Tignor division of Citizen Curator, an Institute of Museum and Library Studies-funded exhibition development project, has developed an interactive, thought-provoking digital exhibit to help unmask deeply entrenched social ideologies and eliminationist rhetoric that fueled the tragedy and shaped subsequent responses to it. The purpose of this exhibit is to engage not only the student body at the University of Central Florida, but also the larger Orlando community – a term being used here to delineate a particular geographic region but also encompass those with interests related specifically to LGBTQ, LatinX, and Muslim causes as epitomized by the Pulse nightclub tragedy – in personal reflection and collective deliberation a year after one of the most moving tragedies in modern American history.

The exhibit features two main parts: 1.) a nonlinear narrative-building interface developed with Twine software to contextualize the tragedy using the work of several theorists, including Gregory Ulmer and his concept of the mystory to raise awareness of ideological and societal issues that contributed to the Pulse tragedy; 2.) a Google map that will serve as a both a visualization of tragedy response and a forum for community engagement, reflection, and meaning making through the team-moderated addition of images, creative works, and other ephemera by community members.

With a strongly theoretical underpinning based on the work of leading academics in the fields of public history and digital rhetoric like Gregory Ulmer, David Neiwert, Walter Lippman, Keri Watson, Antoinette Burton, and Citizen Curator’s own Dr. Barry Mauer, the exhibit serves not only as a repository for previously unconnected methodologies but takes traditional practices one step further by returning them to the hands of the community that knows this tragedy best. The exhibit lays the foundation for personal reflection and for the informed non-expert to usurp the role of a traditional, authoritative consultant or curator in hopes of avoiding the tendency for public mourning or shrine building to “skirt the causal, historical dimensions” of a tragedy by focusing on a sense of “psychic closure” instead of the societal and ideological foundations that made the event possible in the first place.

This poster showcases the conceptualization and execution of this digital exhibit, including descriptions of audience response and larger community impact following the conclusion of the exhibition period in June and the transition to a more long-term digital presence. The presentation of such a project will help further the mission of both Citizen Curator and HASTAC 2017 by exemplarizing the use of the digital humanities to encourage community participation, archival literacy, and the promotion of overlooked viewpoints crucial to shaping a greater understanding of place, purpose, and perspective. Mapping activism and promoting reflection upon the various shades of involvement in the wake of a tragedy is crucial to understanding and advancing the interconnectedness of a community, even one as large and as diverse as Orlando, to push boundaries, broaden horizons, promote healing, and spur progress.

The exhibit will be available here

Keywords/Key Phrases/Key Terms (3+)


tragedy memorialization

community activism

public history

digital rhetoric

Pulse nightclub