Feeling creepy

Working with Bud and Patricia’s love story was starting to make me feel a little weird. I know the details of their lives together was made public, and I know I can’t ask their permission to use it because they have died, but something about mapping out their story was making me feel creepy. Making this (public) story public again, in a different way, just felt wrong. And that’s interesting because as historians, it’s what we do: we somehow find these arguably openly available stories in archives, or newspapers, or photographs, or a variety of databases and sources (though of course, there are issues of privilege, authority, and access to information that come into play at times), and we somehow claim to make them public. So why did those this particular project feel creepy?

I tried to explain it to myself and my prof, but I don’t know if I really got the reason why. And I wonder if it’s because of the nature of the project. Would I have these same concerns if I was writing a paper - specifically one that only my prof would ever see? I don’t think so. Would I still feel creepy if I would just be sharing the outcome with my classmates, and no one else? I don’t think so. But there’s something about creating this path, from where they started their life together in Ottawa, to where they are buried today, which people would then follow in order to hear the sonified outcome that felt like an intrusion. Oddly enough, while questions of ethics and ethical research don’t always come up when we’re working with the dead, it is precisely because Patricia and Bud are dead that I feel this way. If they were alive, and the cemetery was not the final coordinate of their song, would I still feel unsettled? I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s because I felt like I was making this strange pilgrimage for these people I never even knew, and sending more people they never even knew on it. I kept thinking, what if their children saw this? Would they feel honoured? Would they feel violated? Would they ask me to take it down? And yet, how often have I thought of the children, grand-chidlren, or extended families of the people I wrote about in my history papers? Never. Something about this combination of public and places - the public in the places - makes it different. And even though these are all public spaces, I felt like I was inviting the public into these strangers’ private places. What gave me that right?

So is it the nature of the stories as well? That love stories are deeply personal and usually private? Maybe. Maybe I didn’t feel like it was my place to invite people into Patricia and Bud’s love story. I do want to play with this idea of intimate experiences, with both the stories I sonify and the experience I create for the participants. But maybe this isn’t the way to do it.

Raw sonified data from Pat and Bud’s love story

I’m using the data as a test, but will not be including this story in the final map.

Official project website: Ottawa Love Stories

Written on March 19, 2018