Helping us take a closer look at their town, history, heritage…
We set off on a quest to find out more about the town of Topola from its residents. Before getting to know the residents of Topola and their stories, we wanted to take a closer look at presently available information and content about the town’s heritage. So, we did some research, interviewed curators, historians, archaeologists and reviewed available digital presentations such as websites, social networks as well as print publications i.e. archival materials, tourist brochures, periodicals, magazines; visited museum exhibitions etc. This research led us to a conclusion that Topola is offering its residents and visitors rich and interesting content but old-fashioned way of presentation lacking interactivity and innovation.
So, our next step was to get to know each other. We decided for a mix of digital approach via emails, websites and social networks and personal one through workshops and visits. Our target groups were youngsters from the High School King Peter I Karadjordjević and Elementary School Karadjordje; senior generation from the Pensioners Club, as well as the public sector Tourist Organization Topola Oplenac, Cultural Centre Topola who helped us reach other groups and citizens interested in sharing their opinions and their stories on town’s heritage. We informed them about our project and asked for their help in getting to know the town from their point of view and at the same time encourage them to tell as their Topola stories. All the groups responded very well to our call and provided us with some interesting data and materials.
Our goal was to get to know residents’ perspectives, what interests them, what bores them, what would they like to see, visit, do in their own town and what not, and to have the public sector to help us in spreading the information and contacting them. In order to have some kind of summery of their needs, opinions and expectation regarding their town, existing tours, available or non-available information or scarcely known facts/stories we developed and online questionnaire and asked them to fill it in. Also, in the second part of the questionnaire we asked them to tell us their town stories and memories. The questionnaire was shared via websites and social networks and within the workshops.
The initial results of the questionnaire revealed some interesting information and some also confirmed that we were on the right track. People wanted to find out more about personal memories of people of Topola, private life of important historical figures, everyday life of people of certain historical period, but also they thought that the town was lacking some practical information for visitors about accommodation, transport, places to eat etc.
Our other approach consisted in organizing workshops, where besides the presentation of our project and an online questionnaire, we tried to demonstrate some of the existing new ways and technologies in presentation of cultural heritage, to involve them and inspire them to think about new ideas and innovative ways of their town presentation. At first, they were a little bit shy to talk, interact, communicate but in the end responded very enthusiastically when we showed them some innovative ways of heritage presentation and they all wanted to try out the apps and participate.
So, we talked about the project, their town, history, what would they like to show/tell us that we don’t know. Also, we wanted to know their town stories. They were are guides, they did some interviews, shot some films, shared our information via their websites and social networks.
For us the most surprising of all were the senior citizens of Topola who were the most interesting and inspiring sources of information, very keen in sharing memories about their ancestors, town, old crafts, history, art etc. Since they were less skilful with new technologies students helped with interviews and filming some of the stories of older citizens about Topola, the way of life and personal histories.
This was just our small first step in engaging residents in helping us creating digital story of their town. We hope to see and hear more of their ideas and digital stories in the following period... However small, these first steps and all the amazing people inspired us to think of way how to gather all of their stories, make them available and reachable to others. It led us to think of a Topola Stories Collaboration Platform. Although still in the form of a draft, of an idea to develop and put to a test, we are very excited to see what will become of it… Under construction …To be continued…