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2019 January



January 31, 2019

Africa’s Imperial Commodities

January 31, 2019 | By | No Comments

Europe’s exploitation of Africa is a common narrative in African history. Scholars continue to use archival records to investigate the movement of enslaved persons and commodities from Africa to the Americas and Europe. In the past ten years, scholars have also produced digital projects that enhance economic, social, and cultural studies related to the transportation of African slaves to the Americas. However, there remain few digital projects harnessing the possibilities of Africa’s commodity data. Economic historians of Africa, more so than others, have contributed to the collection and publication of product-based datasets. While some of them publish their data online, it remains in digital formats requiring knowledge of data analysis software. The goal of my CHI project, then, is to re-purpose the available data as part of interactive visualizations that facilitate access for students and scholars.

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January 30, 2019

Shaking Off the Dust: Building a Digital Library For My CHI Fellowship Project

January 30, 2019 | By | No Comments

The baffling amount of data in archaeological collections makes their management a daunting task. Subsequently, material culture can sit on shelves for years, collecting dust long after removing the original dirt of excavation. My project for the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship will attempt to address this issue by using KORA to build a digital library for the archaeological collections curated by the MSU archaeology department. KORA is a digital repository and publishing platform that I will use to facilitate easier management of collections and bring some of their unique cultural heritage into the public eye. The Schmidt Collection will be the first collection I attempt to do this with.

Walter L. Schmidt was an avocational archaeologist who collected a large number of artifacts from his farmland in southern Michigan. During the middle of the 20th century, Schmidt discovered hundreds, if not thousands, of artifacts ranging from Paleoindian to historic time periods. A detailed cataloging system describing these artifacts and where they were found on his land was developed.  Many newspaper clippings, correspondences with archaeologists and other documents associated with the collection of artifacts have likewise been saved. Walter Schmidt believed in the cultural value of these artifacts and the significance of his land as an archaeological site.

Mr. Schmidt had originally planned on preventing serious excavations on his land until professional archaeologists could begin excavating. Circumstances, however, did not allow. After passing away in the 1970s, land development in his area likely made the curated artifacts at MSU all that will come of Walter Schmidt’s effort. Since his passing, Walter’s collection has changed hands several times, luckily ending up here at the archaeology department. The loss of the Schmidt site and the lack of useful provenience data are tragic events, but the artifacts that were saved still have massive potential to inform us about our cultural heritage.

KORA will be the engine for unlocking the potential of the Schmidt’s artifacts and documents. This will require the development of a metadata scheme to describe these data. This includes descriptors such as catalog number, document type, site location, artifact type, etc. This is not an insignificant task. The scheme will have to be carefully constructed considering how I am attempting to also build a digital library for additional unknown archaeological collections in the future. After finishing this critical task, the metadata will have to be mapped into a KORA repository which will then allow me to enter the relevant data from the collection. This will be the essence of my project for the CHI fellowship.

But what about getting this information into the public eye? This goal of the project may be beyond the scope of the CHI fellowship. Fortunately, I will have the luxury of combining this project with my continued duties as the museum research assistant in the next academic year. This will allow me the time and resources to publish a digital image library also using KORA.  A major difference between a digital library and a digital repository is in how it makes our collections accessible to the public. A library will take the information I have entered into the repository and display it on a frontend website that will be accessible from the MSU anthropology department website.

There is more to making a collection accessible than building a frontend website, however. A digital library should go beyond displaying the simple metadata and tell a narrative. Consequently, a major goal will be to develop “digital exhibits” within the website which showcase an essay or research about particularly interesting artifacts or the collections themselves. It is my hope that digital exhibits will unlock the potential of these documents and artifacts for the public to see. This will involve quite a bit of effort to produce narratives worthy of engaging the public. Or I can make undergrads do that research for me. By that time, I am sure I will be willing to shoulder off some of the work. Either way, I hope to do my part to make interesting sources of cultural heritage like the Schmidt Collection more accessible, and hopefully shake off a bit of dust.



January 29, 2019

Kicking off the project

January 29, 2019 | By | No Comments

With the new semester kicking off, I am shifting my focus from practicing various digital tools and enhancing technical skills, to working on my own research project, depicting immigrant players on the German national football team since 1990. As I mentioned in my first CHI blog post, I’ve taken interest in how the sociological phenomenon of football influences German national identity. As one of the most popular sports in the world, football is more than just a sport that people watch and play in their leisure time. As a cultural product, football could represent the sprits of certain region as well as a country (nation). In the meanwhile, football also provides its audience a platform to express their emotions with their peers. Football received enormous attention during the World Cup every four years. World Cup attracts not only football fans, but also general population especially when their national team perform well. One of the reasons behind this collective fanaticism roots in the competition form of World Cup. Players fight for their own countries and people who share the same origin stand behind and cheer for them.

In recent years, some people pointed out that the German national football team is no longer “German” anymore. Statement as such triggers me to think what does it mean to be “German”. In my second post, I mentioned the dilemma Einstein had to face, where in Germany people identify him sometimes as “German scholar” and sometimes as “Swiss Jew”. His nationalities are interchangeable based on his academic performance. After nearly a century, the biased judgement of one’s nationality based on one’s performance remains the same. Özil, one of the most famous professional football players in the past five years, explicitly expressed the discrimination he experienced during his time playing for the German national football team. Writing this post provided me an opportunity to really get to know a player’s life trajectory, to try to understand why some players struggle to “fit in” the society even they are no different from other players besides their outlook. This process eventually helped me to make a decision on my project: studying players with immigrant backgrounds who play for the German national football team.

After settling in on the topic, I start to think about how can I make the knowledge I learned from the previous semester applicable for my own project. In my last post, I briefly mentioned that using mapping tools could help depict players’ heritage in a more intuitional way. After a few weeks of thinking, I finalized my research project Vision Document where I describe various aspects of this project, including project description, outcomes, functionality, Audience, etc. This project depicts and summarizes the personal profile of the players who played for the German national football team in the World Cup since 1990, with a specific focus on football players who have immigrant backgrounds. The end result of this project will be a website where audience could learn about the national football team members from 1990 to 2018, and read narratives of certain players, such as Özil, Boateng, etc. This research will ideally address and challenge the notion of an “un-German” national team, as multicultural identity has long been and will continue to be part of the team. As part of my doctoral dissertation “The German Football Team and National Identity,” this project will serve as the foundational function of presenting historical facts.

At the end of this blog post, I would like to say that writing blogs is beneficial for me in terms of figuring out what I want to present and how I could present my ideas. This writing process encourages me to consistently ask myself what my research interests are and how I could turn them into a presentable project with the help of the technologies I acquired through last semester. I am looking forward to working on this project and hopefully present the final website before the summer comes to Michigan.



January 26, 2019

Public Engagement

January 26, 2019 | By | No Comments

In my most recent blog post, I discussed the importance of public engagement by researchers in academia, focusing on the role of biological anthropologists and their unique ability to contribute to the conversation on social race and ancestry. I mentioned how this concern led me to broaden the target audience of my CHI fellowship project from biological anthropologists and related professionals to middle and high school students and introductory college courses. However, because I am not trained or conditioned to reach outside of my disciplinary bubble, one of my goals this semester is to learn how to successfully engage with and educate the public through my project (brief project description available in my last blog post). I started asking myself questions to decide how to best promote my project and ensure that people will actually use the website.

Some questions I am concerned with are:

  1. What variables are used to measure success of public engagement?
  2. When is a public engagement project considered successful?
  3. What mediums are commonly used to reach the largest number of people?
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January 25, 2019

projects of recovery

January 25, 2019 | By | No Comments

When we returned in January, I realized that I am still quite unsure of what I want for this project. I still don’t know. While working on my wireframe and project vision, I found myself a bit lost which led to me asking myself about the purpose, the goals, the audience all over again. Moreover, what I am hoping to learn? I continually come back to recovering.

Kim Gallon (2016) argues that there is a “‘technology of recovery’ that undergirds black digital scholarship”. She writes, “…any connection between humanity and the digital therefore requires an investigation into how computational processes might reinforce the notion of a humanity developed out of racializng systems, even as they foster efforts to assemble or otherwise built alternative human modalities”.

In Gallon’s discussion of the recovery project that is the black digital humanities, I am prompted to think about the following as I begin collecting data. First, I need to truly contend with not only what am I trying to recover, but why and how. In looking to how digital projects can play a role in the project of black people’s humanity, I want to learn more about how my own project will do that work and how it may be complicit in taking up actions antithetical to my overall goal. This is why I listed some of my project goals moving forward. I want to be held accountable—and if the internet is good for anything, it is reminding you of something you said months or years ago.

My goals moving forward are:

  1. Engage and Learn. Read more pieces about the Digital Humanities in Black Studies. This means treating this work as a important as the material components of my project. It is a pledge and a commitment to undertake; however, I would rather minimize the scope of my project rather than have it be divorced of conversations that are happening next door. In order to make this feasible, I hope to read at least 2 pieces about the intersections of Black Studies and the Digital Humanities each week as I move forward. These pieces may or may not be published in peer-reviewed texts. The goal is not to be in conversation solely with texts only accessible through institution granted journal access, but to see what connections are being made among and across s/places. For instance, if the project is also about recovery, then I need to be reading from all archives no matter their elite status. To me, this is a part of CHI’s commitment to public access. It’s not just creating something for the public (however one may define) but to also respond to the creations of others.
  2. Question and Integrate. With the 2 think pieces, I will annotate my own project’s wire frame and and project vision to ensure that I am questioning and integrating what I learn. What I appreciate so much about the new wireframe programs I am finding is how flexible and malleable they are for a newcomer such as myself. Many that I am coming across allow me to make comments, revisions, and drafts which will undoubtedly come in handy.
  3. Justify Content. My third goal is related to my first and second in that I want to have a justification for all of my content. In drafting versions of my wire frame and project vision, I find that I’m getting to know my website and what I want—but that I don’t exactly know what I want or why. It’s helpful to see what it can look like and what can be feasible; however, I know that in order to tell a solid narrative I will need to be more intentional about the elements I am including. For instance, how can the addition or placement of particular stills alter my narrative? Will those additions and placements create tension within my story?

In my future posts, I hope that I can bring some of what I learn and updates on my goals while also sharing the challenges and possibilities I encounter.


Gallon, K. (2016). Making a case for the Black Digital Humanities. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.



January 22, 2019

The Challenges of “Digitizing Indigenous History”

January 22, 2019 | By | No Comments

              While I face many challenges moving forward with my project for the CHI fellowship (I argued with a masthead for hours last week), the most challenging part of my online exhibit is respectfully displaying and interpreting the quill boxes created by makers in The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa. As most social scientists will tell you, because of the pervasiveness of certain structures of knowledge, we often fail to recognize how colonialism and imperialism have deeply affected our world views. Take maps, for example. While standardized maps may appear to be objective, attempting to present our worldly space in a straight forward way, they are derived from European understandings and partitioning of the globe. Many historians have argued that modern maps obscure how non-European cultures understood space and physical relationships, to say nothing of the Mercator’s misconception issue.

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January 20, 2019

Do I Want to be Remembered for This? Digitization and 1990s Anime Fandom

January 20, 2019 | By | One Comment

Part of the impetus for embarking on this project was the conservation of convention history. Many of the constituent components of early fandom have disappeared or were never recorded in the first place. As pop culture is seen as disposable–ask anyone who has longed for an original Action Comics #1–there was even less incentive to preserve the ordinary, functional elements of conventions. While awareness of the importance of pop culture artifacts has grown, partly spurred on by a new general appreciation for their perceived monetary value, this has not translated into into preservation of related convention ephemera. The records of conventions are seen as a means to an end, a finding aid to the treasures of the convention itself. However, digitizing records that were never meant for wide distribution brings up ethical considerations, as personal identities and interests are opened to the scrutiny of a mass audience, something never envisioned in the 1990s.

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January 14, 2019

Reflections on a past field season

January 14, 2019 | By | No Comments

This past December I had a short field season in Arequipa Peru where I finished collecting data for my master’s thesis. Even though this season was short (only 2 weeks), I feel like I learned as much as I did during my summer field season (2 months). One of the major things I learned about was that creating 3D models using Agisoft is incredibly time consuming and requires an extreme amount of patience. One of the major problems that I was having is that the models would not render and would not build a correct sparse could which is the first step in creating a model. Previously I thought that the main cause to all my problems was a lack of light but during this season I figured out that the direction of the light is as important, if not more important. I went back through photos I have previously taken that were used to create models successfully and I began to notice a trend. The trend was that the background was not only black but was always out of focus. I compared the successful photos with the ones I had taken recently and found that in the photos that had not successfully built a sparse cloud the background was semi-visible. So after learning this information, I change some settings on my camera and make sure that the background is completely obscured by shadow. Success! I finally get my first sparse cloud to successfully render after countless hours and many failures.

Although I am not an expert on the inner-workings of Agisoft, I have spent some time using the program and have a hypothesis to why having the background completely obscured is important. The simple answer is that the methodology I employ is predicated on having a fixed camera and the object being modeled being placed on a turn table which allows for different angles to be captured. Hypothetically the only objects that should be moving throughout the sets of pictures will be the projectile point and the surface of the turn table on which the point rests. If the background doesn’t have any recognizable features and is just a black blob, the program will only focus on the moving parts within each picture. If the background is illuminated at all, the program will attempt to add the black background into the model and create a spare cloud that looks nothing like the original object.

Overall, I am excited to finally start my thesis writing and work and I look forward to posting updates on this blog.