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US & Kenyan professors develop app that catalogues history/culture of Kisumu

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Kisumu appFor most Americans, views of the African continent are rarely positive. Famine, disease, armed conflict — this is what typically comes to most minds when asked to consider African life.

But such stereotypical assessments don’t capture the full essence of Africa, and certainly don’t reflect the continent’s beauty and rich history.

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Dr. Mark Souther, History professor at Cleveland State University and director of the university’s Center for Public History and Digital Humanities (CPHDH), believes media portrayal of Africa is a primary reason for negative Western attitudes.

“[If] you ask a typical American ‘what are the first five words you think about when you think of Africa,’ sadly a lot of [them] are going to be problems,” he said.

To help combat these misconceptions and foster a greater understanding of African history, Souther and Dr. Meshack Owino, fellow History professor at CSU, traveled to Kisumu, Kenya — the country’s third largest city — to work with officials from Maseno University this past January to develop a digital historical app on the city and surrounding region.

Souther and Owino, who is a native Kenyan, spent 10 days in the city working with administrators of Maseno University — one of seven public universities in Kenya — to develop “MaCleKi” (a combination of Maseno University, CSU and Kisumu), which will highlight sites of historical and cultural significance in the Kisumu area.

With a $60,000 start-up grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, MaCleKi was designed using Curatescape, described as “a low-cost, open-source mobile framework for publishing location-based humanities content” on CPHDH’s website.

Curatescape has been used extensively by Souther and CPHDH in developing numerous digital historical apps. The popular Cleveland Historical app, which according to Souther was downloaded by 20,000 users in 2014, is one such example.

Souther said he, Owino and Maseno University officials such as Vice Chancellor Dominic Makawiti worked to design MaCleKi to enhance the limited historical information available on Kisumu for Kenyan residents and students at both universities. Once the app is fully functional, most of the content uploaded will be published by students, according to Souther.

Souther said traveling to Kenya to develop MaCleKi was significant and believes its impact on the country and, possibly, other Sub-Saharan African countries could be substantial.

“We wanted to do something that would be potentially transformational,” he said. “[We wanted] to empower a region where universities are still struggling to become well-established.”

Souther also believes students from CSU and Maseno University can both equally benefit from using MaCleKi. While CSU students can work to further develop the available historical content on the app and learn important research skills, Souther thinks the takeaways for Kenyan students can be much greater.

“I’d say [Maseno University students] get an even more profound value by doing this work,” he said. “Nobody is doing this work in the way that they are doing it.”

But beyond the academic worth of MaCleKi, Souther said the cross-cultural experiences and interactions of CSU and Maseno University students have their own inherent value.

“The thing that students get from working on this particular project…is they’re collaborating across an ocean with people from a different culture,” he said.


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