Documentary maker flooded with artifacts

This picture of the 1913 flood is one of countless archives University of Findlay student Sarah Stubbs sifted through in preparing her interactive documentary titled "Findlay Floods: An Interactive Documentary Contextualizing Hancock County's Floods and Flood Mitigation." (Photo provided by the Hancock Historical Museum)

This picture of the 1913 flood is one of countless archives University of Findlay student Sarah Stubbs sifted through in preparing a project titled “Findlay Floods: An Interactive Documentary Contextualizing Hancock County’s Floods and Flood Mitigation.” (Photo provided by the Hancock Historical Museum)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
STAFF WRITER

A University of Findlay student has chosen flooding as the topic for her senior capstone project.

Sarah Stubbs of Akron has been working since October to create an interactive documentary that will provide information about the flooding problems in Findlay and Hancock County. The completed project, “Findlay Floods: An Interactive Documentary Contextualizing Hancock County’s Floods and Flood Mitigation,” launches Wednesday on the Hancock Historical Museum’s website.

“It’s been fun. It’s exciting to see it manifest on the actual website,” said Stubbs.

A double major in English literature and journalism, Stubbs said the spark for her idea may have come about last year when she worked on her English capstone project which dealt with sustainability efforts on the UF campus.

“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues,” she said. “And I was interested in flooding because, environmentally, I was curious as to what was going on with the benefits of going with Stantec versus the Army Corps of Engineers because of certain federal regulations. And I know that Findlay has lots of oil, so I was just curious.”

Stubbs also wanted to find out what some of the major players had to say in regards to flooding, including people from the farming community and those representing the city.

“I guess the other reason I became interested in it, I’m a bartender at Dark Horse, so I hear people talk about it. And it’s so interesting that people have just such strong opinions and their opinions are so diverse,” she said.

Another piece of the puzzle came from one of Stubbs’ instructors, Megan Adams, an assistant professor of communication at UF who has worked with the museum on a farm narrative project.

“I’m really interested in the types of projects she’s done. And she has experience in interactive documentary filmmaking,” Stubbs explained. “So what I’m doing is like a baby version of what she did for her dissertation.”

According to the university’s website, Adams’ dissertation featured an interactive web-based documentary focused on an area near the place she was raised in McDowell County, West Virginia.

“When she taught us about those types of projects, I knew I wanted to do something like that, like a hybrid video, writing and the historical archival element, too,” said Stubbs.

Museum director Sarah Sisser said she’s excited about the potential for the project.

“I think it’s a very innovative approach to documenting and archiving this type of history,” she said.

“Historically the river was such an economic driver for the community and for the county. And historically, I think we did a better job of utilizing that asset for transportation and development,” Sisser said. “So I think that’s an important part going forward in the conversation about flood mitigation, is how we can once again be able to utilize the river as a real resource.”

University of Findlay student Sarah Stubbs sifts through historical documents to be used in an interactive documentary detailing the flooding problems in Findlay and Hancock County. The project launches Wednesday on the Hancock Historical Museum’s website. (Jeannie Wiley Wolf photo)

University of Findlay student Sarah Stubbs sifts through historical documents to be used in an interactive documentary detailing the flooding problems in Findlay and Hancock County. The project launches Wednesday on the Hancock Historical Museum’s website. (Jeannie Wiley Wolf photo)

Stubbs spent time researching old newspaper articles and digging for information online.

“Those governmental websites are really helpful sometimes. The weather one, it gives you all the data from when the Blanchard River crested, and all the specifics of all the floods,” she said. “But looking through the archives I got really overwhelmed, because originally I wanted to sort of embed a lot of photos into a timeline. But then I realized that timeline was going to be forever long, so I had to narrow it down a lot.”

Her search in the museum’s photography collection produced many images from the 2007 flood.

“I was surprised … how many images we had and how well the community had documented that,” said Sisser. “And then we certainly have quite a bit from earlier floods, particularly the 1913 flood which was Findlay’s largest flood, and then even earlier.”

“So flooding is not a new problem for Findlay and Hancock County,” she added. “And so, for Sarah to be able to reflect back for more than 100 years and see how the city and county have lived with this problem and how the situation has been, sorry for the pun, very fluid, I think that will be really interesting to see that documented in digital format.”

Stubbs conducted interviews with Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson; Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik; Gary Wilson, past president of the Hancock County Farm Bureau; Steve Wilson, project manager for the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District; John LaRiche, representing a downtown business; and Barb Lockard, a former Findlay City Schools board member who is seeking at at-large on city council this November.

The four video pieces focus on the 2007 flood; urban versus rural conversation and miscommunication; the transition from the Army Corps of Engineers to Stantec, and Stantec’s proposals; and what’s to come.

“A lot of my interviewees talked about what they would like to see moving forward and how they want to be reflective about what the community wants, like celebrating the Blanchard River and trying to be more innovative about how to make the most out of the river,” said Stubbs.

She said she’s happy with the interviews.

“I think that’s what the community is curious about right now, is what the conversation is among local government and just the people who have been in this conversation for so long,” she said.

“The videos are short, too. They won’t be longer than five minutes.”

“My goal is to make it so that it has a lot of just bite-size information that’s easy to digest, because sometimes you’re following flood mitigation and Stantec proposals and everything in The Courier, it can be a little overwhelming,” added Stubbs.

Sisser agreed.

“I think what’s being lost then in that conversation are the real stories of how the flooding affects people living both in the city and in the county,” she said. “I think that’s why this problem is going to be so special because, in that quantitative data, we’ve lost sight of some of the people in the qualitative component of the situation and how it’s affecting business owners, farmers, people living in the flood plain.”

Stubbs said she hopes to continue collecting stories from the community even after her project is completed.

“She’s (Sisser) going to let me continue the project. I think it would be cool to have all the flood archives digitized and in one place where community members could submit to it and add to it, not only archives, but also their stories, too,” she said.

Stubb is also creating a Facebook page to promote the project and to invite residents to send in their photos from the floods. The photos will be organized on a public Flickr account, she said.

Stubbs was chosen to give a presentation on her project at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 7. After graduation, she plans to apply to the Peace Corps.

“I’m very impressed with the scale of the project and how she’s navigated the project,” said Sisser. “I hope that I’ve maybe been helpful in directing her to a couple of other avenues to explore or people to talk to, but she’s very much been leading the charge. And I think we’re just the fortunate recipients of all her hard work.”

Wolf: 419-427-8419
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