Digital archive of signs from last year’s Boston Women’s March now available online
“Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” was written above a rainbow-colored peace sign.
“A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance,” was scrawled in black marker on white posterboard.
The words “We Shall Over Comb” floated over an image of wavy hair and a comb.
“ArtoftheMarch.Boston” is an interactive digital trove — and a large one at that — of the many slogans, sayings, and witty and creative phrases that were scribbled or delicately drawn onto the placards people brought to the demonstration in January of last year, one day after President Trump’s inauguration. A throng of marchers attended the event, an extension of similar protests across the country that day.
The online collection of handmade signs went live this weekend, around the same time that local protesters and supporters of the movement gathered — this time in Cambridge — to mark the one-year anniversary of Trump taking office.
Searches of the visual database, a yearlong project headed by Northeastern University professors, researchers, and students, are broken down into three main categories: “Concern,” “Strategy,” and “Contains.”
Each option can then be refined by topics such as “women’s rights,” “feminism,” “reproductive rights,” “race,” and many more. Queries can also be narrowed down to what is on the posters, whether it be illustrations, text-only, photographs, or collages.
When an individual sign is clicked on, users can view details about its cultural context, lettering style, how it was made, as well as its condition.
Steps to create the digital project began last year, moments after the crowd that showed up for the march began pouring out of the public park downtown, discarding their signs along the fence line of the Common as they left.
As the day came to a close and the signs started piling up, the city’s Public Works crews prepared to haul them away to the trash.
But before the posters hit the dumpster, Northeastern University professors Nathan Felde, Alessandra Renzi, and Dietmar Offenhuber, along with a group of friends and colleagues, had a sudden spark of inspiration: They saw the signs as a piece of history — one that told an important story they felt should be preserved for generations to come.
On a whim, they gathered up what they could carry and transported a van full of the signs to a storage locker.
Later — and with the help of many volunteers — they painstakingly organized and separated thousands of the signs, sorting through what could be salvaged and what could not, in a South Boston warehouse. This process included the first steps in eventually digitizing the archive, so that it could be made available at the click of a button.
Offenhuber, an assistant professor of art and design and public policy and urban affairs, said one of his favorite parts about the online project is that it encapsulates what was happening that day in Boston, and how those voices of opposition still ring true a year later.
“I think the nice things about it is that it’s really this snapshot of a particular place and time and sentiment,” he said. “This concise and complete nature of it is what I really like. . . . It’s just the way the totality of the posters reflects the political public life at the moment.”
Organizers want educators and researchers to take advantage of the website for personal projects, Offenhuber said, but the main goal is to allow the public to dive in and explore the collection.
“We first built a website that only served this purpose to facilitate this analysis with a team of researchers,” he said. “And then it morphed into the actual website that you see now, which is our way of letting the public access this material.”
As for the physical versions of the posters? They remain in storage at Northeastern’s library, he said. But soon, they could come out of hiding.
“We are hoping we will have an exhibition at some point,” he said.