The CHI fellowship has two moments: introducing the use informatics have for cultural heritage and the development of an individual or a collective digital humanities’ project. The division of those moments is not absolute. The introduction to the use informatics has for social sciences and the humanities comes with instances of practice and learning while doing. During the first part of the CHI fellowship, fellows have produced websites pitching visions for hypothetical projects and websites with stories driven by large amounts of data and some applications to visualize it. Right now, when I am writing these words, fellows are preparing stories driven by web maps of different sorts.
Our individual or collective projects drive the second section of the fellowship, and it has already started with the definition of our vision documents. The vision document is a short piece where the fellows talk about the project’s main aspects and traits. This entry introduces the basic features of my vision document, my objectives, and the deliverables that I am committing to. I am also talking about the sources of inspiration this project is using.
My project is called Mapping the Colombian Emblematic Memories, and its objective is to provide a visual representation of the relationship between memory about violent pasts and place. Colombia is a country that has gone through more than fifty years of inner armed conflict, and memories about those years are contesting solutions to those violent contradictions. The project seeks to show the plurality of voices about the past every scholar of collective memories can find in the country. It also seeks to serve as a platform of encounter.
Emblematic memories are frameworks of meaning, providing a stable source of templates to interpret reality. Those frameworks of meaning are the product of personal experiences, but they are also the product of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic political processes where actors with contradictory interests struggle. Mapping the Colombian Emblematic Memories seeks to provide a snapshot of the contention that comes with producing and reproducing memories about the violent Colombian past. Still, it also hopes to be the excuse to advance transformative conversations between those who seek a hegemonic emblematic memory.
Mapping the Colombian Emblematic Memories will deliver a webpage with a map of various sites of memory. Those sites are museums, sites of pilgrimage, or places where citizens gather to discuss the violent Colombian past in a variety of ways (In the last case, those places are tied to centers of basic, intermediate, or higher education). Markers in the map will open a new webpage with information about the place, or in other words, information about the people filling a space with meaning.
In technical terms, the project will be hosted in Github, and it will use a bootstrap library to build the webpage’s code infrastructure. Leaflet will provide the map’s looks with its JS libraries. Mapbox will be the source of the map’s data.
There are various sources of inspiration I want to acknowledge in this entry. First, we have Steve Stern and his work on Chilean emblematic memories about the Pinochet’s dictatorship. His work is a bold and refreshing take on the field of collective memories. It is bold because it takes the risk to understand without judgment the side of those defending the dictatorship. Like few scholars do in the field of collective memories, Stern resists the temptation of providing a definitive judgment on the outcomes of a political process. Judgment is necessary for any society, especially when it comes to political outcomes. Still, scholars do not need to present themselves every time as the ultimate instance of what is just and what is not. Stern understands that. It is refreshing because it concentrates more on the characterization of the actors playing on a field of political and philosophical dispute, rather than in the definition of the “truthful truth” about the past. His depiction of the Chilean emblematic memories creates a much more complex field of intervention than the one more traditional takes on collective memories do. While the more conventional interpretations talk about a world of negationists and victims, Stern’s take talks about a world of four different types of emblematic memories represented by positioned social actors concerning the Chilean dictatorship and the Allende’s government.
The project has two aesthetical and practical sources of inspiration: the first one is consistent with my deep-felt desires. The second one is the realist one. The first one is the product of looking into Digital Humanities projects in Colombia. The National Library recently founded a project to produce a digital book about Colombia’s spatial representation history. Its name is Mapeando Colombia, la Construcción del Territorio. It means something close to mapping Colombia, the construction of place. The project I am mentioning uses a map of Colombia as the index of a web-book of ten chapters discussing the transformation of spatial representation in the country (you can check it here https://bibliotecanacional.gov.co/es-co/colecciones/biblioteca-digital/mapeando/Paginas/home.html). Every chapter has a good-looking video, the written chapter, and a map exemplifying how space was represented in the time the chapter describes. The problem with this example is the lack of funding and time. Technically, it does not seem to be a considerable challenge, but aesthetically it is. In that regard, the project I am proposing could look like that in the future.
The realist project is to build a web map representing the emblematic memory initiatives in space I have been mentioning. The realist shape of the project also has a source of inspiration. A few years ago, a group of Colombian journalists decided to initiate a project of “data journalism.” The project would visualize the Colombian inner armed conflict trajectories in ways no other journalistic account had done in the past. The project (now a group) is Rutas del Conflicto, meaning the conflict’s routes. Their strategy was to build a database of the Colombian conflict’s events and map it using Leaflet. The project included journalist stories along with what has become their emblematic map of massacres (you can see it here https://rutasdelconflicto.com/masacres). The map represents the Colombian national territory and allows the user to search for the massacres that different armed groups committed in different years and municipalities. The project gained notoriety and various prizes, making it an ever-present organization anywhere there are resources to build a visual representation of the Colombian expressions of violence in space.
I don’t want to end this entry without mentioning two additional sources of inspiration. First, I have to acknowledge Dr. Ethan Watrall, who has been supportive and a critical guide in everything related to the digital sphere of humanities and social science. I could not have imagined this project without him. Second, I want to acknowledge Dr. Edward Murphy. He invited me to take a section of his class where collective memories were under discussion. I had the opportunity to discuss Stern’s book on emblematic memories in his class.