A Digital Repository for Mississippian Archaeologists
For my CHI fellowship project, I will create a digital repository for materials relating to major Mississippian archaeological sites. The Mississippians were the most socially-complex peoples to ever inhabit prehistoric North America, and their sites generally date to between AD 1050 and AD 1500 (several groups in the Southeast United States continued to practice a Mississippian lifestyle at the time of European contact). Their lifeway was characterized by a ranked social structure with ascribed status differentiation, hierarchical inter-site political organization, ubiquitous cleared-field maize agriculture, and a set of common religious institutions and iconography. They dramatically modified their physical environments by clearing plazas and building earthen mounds of variable size and for various purposes, many of which are still evident on the landscape today. Mississippian groups inhabited an area spanning from northern Florida to Illinois and from the Atlantic plain to Eastern Oklahoma (though evidence of their influence is even more widespread). Among the most important and intriguing Mississippian archaeological sites are Aztalan in Wisconsin, Spiro in Oklahoma, Moundville in Alabama, Etowah in Georgia, Lake George in Mississippi, and Cahokia in Illinois.
Data and other materials pertaining to Mississippian sites are scattered throughout private offices, universities, museums, websites, and the minds of researchers. I know from personal experience that it can be difficult for researchers (particularly novice ones like myself), to find the materials and information they need for their projects. This is equally true for every step of the research process, whether you are developing a research problem (i.e. What has already been done? What questions need to be answered or reassessed?), trying to find or develop a data set (i.e. Where are collections curated and whom should you contact for access?), or writing up your results (i.e. What kind of supporting documents might you need to interpret and support your results?). This can be a time-consuming and frustrating process and sometimes it is hard to know where to begin. Furthermore, as a lot of work in Mississippian archaeology is based on inter-site comparison, it would be beneficial to compile information and materials in a way that facilitates such comparisons (i.e. similar scales and formats for maps and photographs when possible, a standardized set of basic site data, etc).
My project will involve the collection, digitization, and organization of materials such as maps, photographs, field notes, publications, gray literature, bibliographies, websites, and raw data within a single digital repository, which will be generally organized by site. The repository will function to preserve materials in a digital format while improving scholarly accessibility and providing an integrated, searchable network of relationships between diverse types and sets of information. Due to the sensitive nature of some of these materials, I do not anticipate that the complete repository will be available for unhindered public use. However, I do plan to eventually develop some type of outward-facing website that will publicize the existence of the project, offer limited access to materials (when express permission is granted by the researchers who contribute said materials), and provide information/links that may be of interest to members of the general public. The KORA platform will be used for repository development.
Dr. Lynne Goldstein, MSU professor of Anthropology, is providing data and materials she has collected over many years of research at the Aztalan site, which will become the first set of digital objects to be entered into the repository. I am grateful for her general expertise in Mississippian archaeology and fortunate that she sees the value in digital repositories as powerful data/information management tools for archaeologists. Over the course of developing a CHI fellowship project, I have encountered a number of major setbacks. Although it was frustrating to have an idea for a project, get excited about it, and then see it fall apart, I learned some valuable lessons (particularly that there are many reasons that people are hesitant to invest their time, effort, and data in a project such as mine). Dr. Goldstein sees the value of a digital repository and, fortunately for me, has a wealth of data and other materials from Aztalan that she is willing to share. My hope is that the quality of my digital repository work with the Aztalan materials will help to convince other Mississippian researchers of its value and to contribute what they can to this project in the future.