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2019 March

dglovsky

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March 29, 2019

The Challenge of Language

March 29, 2019 | By | No Comments

When I decided to use my CHI Fellowship to chronicle and disseminate the stories of individual migrants, my greatest question was the problem of language. My wider research focuses on the experience of migrants and the wider significance of migrants in southern Senegambia, but through a combination of oral history interviews, archival sources, and published sources. The oral history interviews in large part structure my project, but ultimately the analysis and larger conclusions are my own.

Focusing on the stories of individual migrants is an incredible opportunity but features questions of translation. How to best represent interviews done in a mish-mash of languages. Most of my interviews (and all of the ones highlighted in my CHI project) center around the West African language Pulaar (also known as Fulfulde in the eastern part of West Africa). However, many of my interviews feature words and phrases in French, Portuguese, and English as well.

What is the best way to represent the words of my interviewers? A direct transcription of their words would allow those in southern Senegambia to read and analyze these interviews, but Pulaar is (for most of its speakers) not a written language. Traditionally, Pulaar was written in ajami (Arabic script), but very few today learn to write Pulaar using Arabic characters. Today, Pulaar is primarily written using the Latin/Roman alphabet. However, there is no standardized spelling in Pulaar, and words appear radically different in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea, due to the legacy of European colonialism. The word for thank you is spelled jarama (Gambia), diorama (Senegal/Guinea), and djaarama (Guinea-Bissau). Even names are spelled different. One common Pulaar last name is spelled Diallo (Senegal/Guinea), Jallow (Gambia), or Djaló (Guinea-Bissau). Additionally, there are many dialects of Pulaar in West Africa, and I did interviews with speakers of at least three different dialects.

If one is to translate these interviews, there is of course the issue of access. The official language of Senegal and Guinea is French, in Gambia it is English, and in Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese. I am very comfortable translating Pulaar to English (which I do often in my dissertation, somewhat comfortable with French (which I did often as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal), and not particularly comfortable translating Pulaar to Portuguese (which I have little experience with). In the rural areas of West Africa where I conducted my research, the penetration of official languages is often limited, with obviously greater access by those who have studied in government-run schools. Most of those I interviewed did not attend such schools, although some of them still speak English, French, or Portuguese well. For the first phase of this project, I am translating the segments of these interviews into English, since I am an academic based in the U.S. and plan on using these stories in my own teaching. However, I would like to eventually make them available in other languages, particularly Pulaar, French, and Portuguese. This will take more time, and will not take place during the period of the CHI Fellowship, but I believe it is an important step in democratizing digital knowledge, which typically neglects the importance of African languages in favor of European languages.

franc230

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March 29, 2019

The Journey through Metadata

March 29, 2019 | By | No Comments

Previously….

               My previous update was written while in the middle of developing a metadata scheme for an anthropology department digital library. Most of this effort was directed towards finding the appropriate data to describe the data being curated by the department. This largely entailed the researching of metadata schemes and the consideration of unique factors that come along with the curation of archaeological heritage. This often meant making a decision on what entities to use.

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Ethan Watrall

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March 29, 2019

Call for 2019-2020 Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellowship Applications

March 29, 2019 | By | No Comments

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative invites applications for its 2019-2020 Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellowship program.

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowships offer MSU graduate students the skills to creatively and thoughtfully apply digital methods and computational approaches to cultural heritage collections, materials, data, questions, and challenges.

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koutiany

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March 25, 2019

Project update

March 25, 2019 | By | No Comments

As a second-year PhD student, I have been trying to balance myself between three roles: a student, a teaching assistant, and a researcher. Frankly speaking, it has not been easy for me. Attending courses and teaching everyday have taken the majority of my time. Therefore, I truly value the time I have in the LEADR lab every Friday. In the past few weeks, I have made progress in areas such as finding the framework through Bootstrap that works the best for my project, creating a JS timeline that depicts German national football team’s trajectory in the past eight World Cups, collecting stories of various players, etc. Overall, I would describe my working process as “slightly slow, but steady.”

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plemonsa

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March 20, 2019

Hitting the Proverbial Wall

March 20, 2019 | By | No Comments

            I think there is a point in time that every novice reaches in technical projects when they wonder..will I actually successfully complete this project? This is my current mental state in my CHI project. I am swimming in a sea of technical questions in relation to the map demonstration of macromorphoscopic trait data. My lack of experience using Mapbox has become very apparent and my ideas of how I would visualize my data and present this concept to my audience are ever-changing.

            Initially, my intention was to generate a single heat map that could filter through a series of macromorphoscopic traits and their various trait expressions to depict scores densities across space. Several realizations occurred that have changed how I will have to present these data. First, I realized that due to the nature of my data, I will not be able to create a heat map in a way that is meaningful. The geographic location information per individual is generalized to the country in which the individual resided rather than specific coordinate information. This means that a choropleth map will be more appropriate for presenting trait score distributions. In order to create the choropleth map, I need to be able to cross-reference country codes between the map and the macromorphoscopic trait data. The map will need to have countries previously coded and defined so that country names will be recognizable in the datasheet in order to be properly linked.

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cartyrya

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March 16, 2019

Historical Data at the Enslaved Conference

March 16, 2019 | By | No Comments

On March 8th and 9th, Michigan State University hosted a conference titled Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade. The conference brought together scholars using databases to research the lives of individuals connected to slavery and the slave trade. The list of presenters can be found here, and videos of the presentations can be found on the Matrix YouTube channel. Most presenters at the conference focused on the lives of enslaved people in the Americas as captured in archival sources. The two dominant geographic areas for this type of research included the United States and Brazil. Other presenters drew from archaeological methods to explore the material pasts of slavery. Oral history and biographies also featured as methodologies used to build databases. Two themes emerged early in the conference and persisted throughout the presentation sessions: First linking different types of data and second developing best practices for data collection and management.

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TaylorPanczak

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March 1, 2019

Project Update and Technological Hurdles

March 1, 2019 | By | No Comments

For this month’s blog post, I am going to provide a quick update on my project. I have updated the artifact pages and created markers for the highland sites on my map. Also the front-end framework for loading my 3D models onto an HTML page is fully functional which is by far one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. The next steps are adding descriptions and text to the designated areas throughout my web page. Deciding what to write is going to be difficult because I need to find a balance between making my text approachable for a general audience while being applicable for academics. If I add to much lithics jargon, I will possibly lose anyone who is not a specialist. If I do the complete opposite, my site will not be useful for anyone in academia.

The next part of this blog will discuss technological hurdles in an age of open information. Recently I have had to teach myself the basics of Blender to create animations for my website. While there are tutorials online and on YouTube I found most of them hard to follow. This was due mostly my lack of experience using Blender and the tutorials themselves were hard to follow. I experienced the same problem when I was attempting to get Three.js to function properly for my artifact pages. Three.js is a front-end framework that displays 3D models on websites and allows users to manipulate the rendered objects. For some reason, one which I finally figured out after an unspeakable amount of time, the models refused to appear in the center of the screen and had an extremely wide orbit around an arbitrary center (I used orbit controls for the manipulation on my artifact pages). My initial thought was that maybe my point of origin (PO) was incorrect for my models so I googled the problem and found conflicting information. I moved on and began a long search to why Three.js refused to cooperate. 300+ commits to GitHub later, I realize that my PO was the problem so I download blender and set the origin correctly. The long journey finally ended and I had a functioning framework.

What I learned from this experience is that I should trust myself more and that the easiest explanation is usually the best. Occam’s Razor strikes again.