Community Documentation Initiative

The Anacostia Community Museum was founded and remains located within a residential, low- and mixed-income, largely African American community. From its inception, museum exhibitions and public programs focused on community history (later, also on African American history), and on social and cultural issues that resonate within urban communities. focused institution.

Anacostia Community Museum’s current mission focuses on contemporary urban communities; while we maintain a focus on neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River (EOR) and on the Washington, D.C. metro area, we are expanding our research and collecting interests to include urban communities in other areas of the U.S. and around the world.  The museum continues to draw from Washington, D.C.’s EOR neighborhoods as a resource for developing innovative, community-based, far-reaching history and culture exhibitions and public education programs.

The museum promotes partnerships and collaborative projects with other cultural institutions to research, document, and interpret the historical and contemporary cultural and social encounters that shape diverse American communities.

At the core of the Anacostia Community Museum’s work is the belief that active citizen participation in the recovery and use of cultural and historical assets is an important and powerful instrument in creating and maintaining a sense of community and civic ownership. The museum’s Community Documentation Initiative makes historical data and materials directly available to residents and other citizens and seeks to understand the ways that these constituent communities can use the museum to advance issues of identity, economic security and social change.

The CDI organizes and makes accessible the museum’s archival and object collections, including research files and photographs that have been accumulated during the museum’s history. These collections are comprised of artifacts, audio and video recordings of oral history interviews and community meetings, collections of family photographs and family papers dating from the 1890s, documentary photographs taken by museum staff dating from the 1960s, and a library of books and other published materials.  The CDI also makes available newer museum research, including a 2009 survey of churches and religious institutions that features videotaped interviews and photographs of buildings and religious congregations; a  2010 research project, examining art and creativity in EOR communities, featuring interviews with visual artists, performers, and others; and a 2011 research project examining attitudes toward and uses of the Anacostia River by EOR residents.

Current projects include:

Urban Waterways — This project focuses on urban rivers in the U.S. and in different countries around the world.  The Urban Rivers project is based upon research on the Anacostia River and its watershed, and also upon research examining how people engage with urban rivers in other communities.

How the Civil War Changed Washington — The exhibit will focus on the social and spatial impact of the war on Washington, D.C. It will touch on the changes in social mores, in the built environment, in the population, and its ethnic breakdown, and new spatial uses of elements such as the Civil War forts constructed around the city many of which later were turned into parks.

Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C.  — This project looks at the ties between Panama and the U.S. and also examines constructions of identity developed by Panamanians, particularly those living in the U.S.  The United States and Panama have a long and intertwined history, from the construction of the Panama Railroad to facilitate passage during the California Gold Rush to the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal whose expansion will soon be complete. Bridging the Americas is a research and documentation project that draws on past museum collections as well as contemporary interviews and photography to explore this deeply rooted relationship. The project focuses on narratives from Panamanians, people of Panamanian descent, and Zonians (people from the Panama Canal Zone) from around the D.C. metro area, as well as U.S. citizens living in Panama, and demonstrates the strong ties, formal and informal, between Panama and the nation’s capital.

Twelve Years that Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963-1975 –This project focuses on events, people and challenges that transformed the city between 1963 and 1975, the twelve momentous and tumultuous years that saw a generation take to the streets to demand greater equality, justice, and peace, and in the process brought “home rule” to Washington against a national background of Lyndon Johnson’s “great society,” anti-war protests, black power, and feminism.

Unconventional Gateways — This project takes a comparative look at contemporary Latino urban experiences. The Washington, DC, metro region serves as a fascinating point of entry for research. As a city whose population was formerly majority black, the history and culture of Washington, D.C. proper, and by extension its suburbs, make it an atypical receiving settlement for Latinos. Further, the changing demographics of the area create opportunities to examine the DC metro region across different points in history. Comparatively, urban centers in the US Southeast have experienced “Hispanic Hypergrowth,” meaning that the rapid growth and quantity of Latinos has outpaced that of other US cities. This increase in U.S. born Latinos, and influx of Latino migrants and immigrants changes the dynamics, demographics, and social and cultural life in these urban areas.

Neighborhood Change: Gentrification and Changing Urban Demographics — This project examines different aspects of neighborhood change.  Gentrification is neighborhood change that results in one group of people being replaced by another in a way that reflects the elimination/marginalization of the less fortunate/privileged group. In Washington D.C .,  like many other metropolitan areas around the world, this has often fallen along racial, ethnic and economic lines. Gentrification reflects broad and global structural adjustments going on in the U.S. national and in international economies, and recent decades show increasing involvement by the state (i.e., local and county government officials).  It is one of the most significant and widely discussed processes happening in urban communities today.

This website provides the public with direct access to museum research, as well as a portal to the  archival material, photographs, audio-visual material, historical artifacts, and other museum resources that the ACM leverages from its Smithsonian partners. Our research focuses on five broad areas of inquiry:  Urban Arts; Cultural Encounters; Technological Change; Urban Ecology; and Urban Studies.



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