Imagining America – Engaged Scholarship for the Arts, Humanities, and Design

By Robin Goettel and Jamie Haft

Imagining America, Syracuse Universit

In 2001, a group of University of Michigan undergraduates spent much of an icy winter well away from the comforts of their Ann Arbor campus. Instead, they were conducting research in senior centers and community centers around the Michigan Central Railroad Station, a key transit point for the Great Migration, in which millions of African-Americans moved to the industrial northern states in search of employment and education, and an important landmark in ethnically diverse southwest Detroit. Under the guidance of history faculty and a playwright from Detroit’s Matrix Theater, the students conducted oral histories and writing workshops, unveiling the hidden cultural and social life of the railroad station and its environs, and used the results to create a stage presentation entitled Homelands. The next year, Homelandswas performed at the Matrix Theater by local high school students and for local audiences, andformed part of a multiplying group of cultural products, including an exhibit of historic photographs of the station, and a multimedia sourcebook documenting the partnership and providing a template of the project for other groups to use.