Monday, August 19, 2002

Web site creates Sept. 11 library

The Associated Press

        FAIRFAX, Va. — After a long walk uptown to escape the unfolding disaster at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Lisa Beaty made her way to a Manhattan office, sat down in front of a computer and e-mailed two words that friends and relatives were anxious to see: “I'm OK.” That message and hundreds of other e-mails, photographs and video images are part of a virtual library of the attacks being compiled by scholars in Virginia and New York.

        The September 11th Digital Archive “will serve as a new platform in which people can make their own history,” said Jim Sparrow, one of the organizers of the project, which is accessible online.

        Chrissie Brodigan, a graduate student working with Sparrow on the site at the Center for New Media and History at George Mason University in this Washington suburb, said the goal is to create a national memory of the attacks.

        Sparrow and his colleagues at George Mason, about 20 minutes west of the Pentagon, started the project in January by visiting victims and families in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa., where one of the four hijacked planes crashed.

        Since then, the researchers have collected hundreds of e-mail and chat room messages, photos and online personal diaries from people nationwide relating to their Sept. 11 experiences.

        Also sought are text messages transmitted by beeper that day from people trying to reassure friends and loved ones.

        Beaty and her husband, Kirk, already had spoken by phone after the attacks started. At 12:18 p.m., more than three hours after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, she sat at a computer and wrote the e-mail that would be relayed to worried friends and relatives.

        After telling them she was all right, she detailed the chaos:

        “Had I made the train I was trying to this AM, I would have been in the WTC when the plane hit. Pays to be late sometimes,” she wrote.

        “Was standing next to some people that were in the building across from the Tower — they saw the plane (1st plane) hit and then saw people jumping out the windows. It was absolutely the most horrible thing I have ever witnessed in my life.”

        Kirk Beaty said he submitted the e-mail to the archive because it “represented an unaltered view of events of that day from people who were personally involved, instead of a professionally edited form of the same news.”

        Keith Riggle was working at the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building. The subject line of his e-mail, sent three days later, reads “We're fine.”

        “I think we all know that these attacks will have a profound impact on life in the US and how we see ourselves and the world. ... I know I'll never feel comfortable flying again,” he wrote.

        Projects like the archive represent a new way to take snapshots of historical events and record how America reacts to them, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

        Dozens of other sites have similar functions, though few store e-mails or text messages, as the digital archive does, Rainie said.

        For instance, a separate site, The September 11 Web Archive, tracked and stored government, media and other Web pages related to the attacks as they were viewed on Sept. 11 and in the months after.

        “One of the learning experiences from Sept. 11 is that the Internet is a great way to catalogue and pull together these communications shortly after they occur,” Rainie said. “Almost any major news event that occurs in the future, you will see similar sites develop.”

        George Mason is working with the American Social History Project at the City University of New York Graduate Center. The archive was funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

        The group is also working with organizers of the Smithsonian Institution's exhibition of the attacks, which will open this Sept. 11 in Washington.

        “The hardest part is convincing ordinary people that they are part of history,” Sparrow said.

        September 11th Digital Archive:

        The September 11 Web Archive:


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