At the last minute on Friday morning, Jesica Garcia thought it’d be a good idea to attend a hackathon. Garcia is a Spanish master’s degree student at the University of Louisville. She found out about the event in her Computer and Translation class.
On Friday, about 30 people gathered in a room filled with laptops, coffee and pizza to build a new website for Louisville’s immigrant community. The goal: to ease the transition for some of the city’s newcomers.
“We were told that through this event we could help people who are documented and refugees who are arriving to Louisville,” said Garcia.
She said she knows people who are immigrants, some undocumented. And it would be great if Louisville’s newcomers could have access to an online hub to help with finding services — from nearby houses of worship to medical services.
That was the purpose of Friday’s “hacktheville 2017” event at U of L. In eight hours, techies, English majors and historians gathered in a room to build this resource.
Ashanka Kumari, a Ph.D student in U of L’s English, Rhetoric and Composition program, said it takes an eclectic group like this for such a project.
“I think that has a lot to do with skills,” she said. “And digital humanities projects aren’t just about coding, aren’t just about building a website.”
Kumari said each individual brings a different perspective to the project. For example, an activist can bring their knowledge of the immigrant community. Maybe a geographer can guide the mapping of the site.
“I think a hackathon serves the purpose of learning,” said Kumari. “It’s also a way to bring people together who are busy. It’s like, commit eight hours to this right now.”
The website is also for Louisvillians who want to support businesses that support immigrants, and for those who want to donate to organizations that assist the city’s newcomers.
But projects born from hackathons also face challenges keeping up momentum after innovators leave the space.
Sharon Leon is a digital public historian and professor at George Mason University in Virginia. She gave a talk earlier this week at U of L.
“When we create web resources we have this long-term obligation for who cares for them, where do they live and the ongoing sustainability of them,” she said.
Leon said whatever is built has to be done in a way that’s easy — and cheap — to maintain. And she said, there are other challenges.
“Are we gonna sign up for a service that’s free and easy to use,” said Leon. “But because it’s free and easy to use, our technical capacity is limited. But in the long-term that’s probably a better choice.”
Even with these hurdles, Leon said events like this hackathon are critical.
“It doesn’t happen enough,” she said. “And so to set aside these eight hours for people, for these different groups of people to come together to try to build something of a really important catalyst forward in the community.”