Documenting Chester

chester screenshot with 9 participants in an online meeting.

Documenting Chester comprises community and academic digital platforms to explore the politics, culture and economy of so-called ‘urban decline’ through shared lived experiences of residents of Chester, Pennsylvania in their own terms and in their own voices.

A small, former-industrial city fifteen miles southeast of Philadelphia, Chester is Pennsylvania’s poorest city located in the state’s wealthiest county; African-American families, who comprise the majority (74%) of the city’s residential makeup, bear the brunt of high unemployment, inadequate educational and training resources, deteriorating housing stock, and limited social services. This project uses digital storytelling to engage with residents' direct experiences, memories and stories -- collectively, 'community-sourced knowledge’ – to convey how structures of inequality, poverty and racism shape the social realities of urban life without being determined by them. Its main objective is to offer a different, more complex understanding of the American urban condition by systematically engaging, involving and collaborating with the very subjects of ‘urban crisis’: the diverse range of individuals and families who call such inner cities home but who are routinely ‘spoken about’ as passive and disorganized victims or survivors of ongoing crisis and disorder. 

Digital recordings of direct experiences, memories and stories will be managed by the community (post-custodial archiving) and made accessible online (Omeka) and through publication of a Manifold digital book. The project is funded by a DSSN Enabling Grant, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and an NEH Fellowship for Digital Publication. 

Linked website:


Digital recording


Manifold digital publishing

Principle Investigator

Christopher Mele
Professor, Sociology
Adjunct Professor, Geography
University at Buffalo


The community of Chester, Pennsylvania

Grants and Funding

DSSN Enabling Grant 2019-2020

Pennsylvania Humanities Council 

NEH Fellowship for Digital Publication 2022