Mapping May 4

Photo courtesy of the Mapping May 4 website. 

Many people who were on the Kent State campus leading up to May 4, 1970 have a story of what they heard, saw and experienced. Two professors hope to shed light on some of these unheard stories through a new program they created.

The project, named Mapping May 4, shares 168 stories through audio clips and written text from students, guardsmen, business owners and others who were in the Kent area leading up to and after the events of May 4. Each story is two to five minutes long and appears on an interactive map that shows viewers the locations associated with the stories. 

Jennifer Mapes, an associate professor in geography, and Sara Koopman, an assistant professor in peace and conflict studies, are leading the project. They both had the idea for the project before they even met. 

Mapes said she first got interested in the stories of those present on campus on May 4 after reading about them and hearing interesting accounts from some residents “that you might not normally hear.” Despite her interest in the stories, Mapes didn’t pursue it further until she met Koopman when she started working at Kent State. 

“Sara is in peace studies, and we started talking about peace and planning and reconciliation through planning,” Mapes said. “We found a mutual interest in how we tie geography together with the oral histories and maybe make these oral histories easier to listen to.”  

Koopman and Mapes received funding for their project through the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as funding Koopman received from the university, which allowed them to get up the first part of their website. They later received $20,000 from the Ohio Humanities, a nonprofit organization that gives loans and financial support to varied groups across Ohio. 

With the help of the Kent State Special Collections and Archives, the Kent Historical Society and Each + Every, a design and brand studio in Kent, Koopman and Mapes have made an active webpage and are working toward phase II of the project.

“It will be very similar but it is going to be just a little bit more interactive. So there will be the ability for people to share their own stories and reflections,” Mapes said. “They can interact with the site more than you can do right now. The other thing that we have funding for from this new project is to add more stories.”

Mapes said any stories posted by individuals on the site will be reviewed before they are available for others to read and listen to. 

After updates to the website are complete, interactive exhibits will be put up at the Kent Historical Society and the May 4 Visitors Center. Each location is planned to have an interactive map with an electronic device that will connect to the website. 

“One of the great aspects of this project is that it has so many aspects,” said Mindy Farmer, director of the May 4 Visitors Center. “It has an app and a more traditional exhibit, and I think that will appeal to the generations that come here for May 4. … I think it will add value to a number of generations.” 

Mapes also said they hope to double the number of stories on the website and offer interactive tours around campus and downtown Kent using the stories as talking points. She said they wanted to offer this option so people could interact with the oral stories in a different way, as well as to facilitate conversations about them. These tours are planned to start in April and will continue to be offered after May. 

Although more changes are coming to the project, Mapes said she enjoyed hearing the different stories and hopes people are able to interact with them and learn things they didn’t know before. 

“We were realizing that by doing that [creating the website] it really started to make it less about whose point of view is this hour-long story from, and more about what happened here,” Mapes said. “And the stories that you hear can really make you feel a lot of different emotions and think about different sides.”

Contact Rachel Karas at rkaras1@kent.edu.

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