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December 5, 2018

The Feasibility and Worthwhileness of a Project.

December 5, 2018 | By | No Comments

Scope has been a primary concern for a lot of us during the semester. You have to have an idea that falls right into that Goldilocks zone of feasible and worthwhile. My particular project is no exception. As a research assistant for the anthropology department, I started off the semester hoping to digitize an entire archaeological collection. A collection which may have thousands of artifacts and documents associated with it. I soon realized this is probably too much and decided to build the skeleton of a digital library that could add documents and artifacts in the future. This seemed like a better goal since I will likely be museum RA for quite a while. This was missing an important aspect, however, of what CHI fellowship projects are supposed to be about. That being cultural heritage.

In the future, I hope to be able to use digital heritage to preserve artifacts and educate people about our history. Well, it’s one of my goals. As a Native American archaeologist, I am greatly concerned about spreading Native American culture and passing on our history and values to the public and the next generation. Especially since these things were missing through much of my own upbringing. With this in mind, I realized that I may have actually been focusing too much on just the digital aspect of my project.

Rather than focusing on the digitization of all of the artifacts, or the building of a digital library, some of my attention should be on what sort of story the presentation of these artifacts will produce. This collection holds history. The artifacts that were collected hold the life stories of those that made them and the collection itself holds the story of the archaeologists who put it together. It is important to me that I get both of these aspects out into the world. Because cultural heritage is more than just a catalog. It gives a perspective about who we are.

The exact details of how to do this are still being worked out, but hopefully I will become better at getting the artifacts the and cultural heritage behind them out there in the process. It reminds me that feasibility is important when it comes to the scope of a project, but so is worthwhileness.

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November 16, 2018

Popups: the Greatest Puzzle

November 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

I had my first eureka moment in programming a couple of weeks ago. Our cohort was tasked with building a website with a map, putting some points on that map and making some popups appear when you click on those points. We decided to utilize https://www.mapbox.com to build the dataset, the tileset and the map required for this. Our website would then fetch the map built on mapbox and put it onto our website. Putting points on the map and customizing the markers for those points ended up being easy tasks. So, it was with a bit of overconfidence I began attempting to build the popups.

I started to look for the code I would need around 7am in the morning our project was due. By 10am, that cold shiver went down my spine when you realize you may not have enough time to meet the deadline. At the time, a month did not seem like enough time. Mapbox has many helpful resources for figuring out how to use their stuff, and I discovered the following code while sifting through their tutorials:

var popup = new mapboxgl.Popup({ offset: [0, -15] })

.setLngLat(feature.geometry.coordinates)

.setHTML( )

.setLngLat(feature.geometry.coordinates)

.addTo(map);

There was a bit more to adding this code to our website, but this is the important chunk for this post. Initially looking at all the code, however, I could not figure out how to make the popups show what I wanted. It seemed like every time I tried to change something, the whole map would crash. I feared my group would have to do one of those talks that was only about what went wrong because of my failure to figure this out. That’s when I found a savior on an old forum. Google had led me to some saint who had my same problem a few years ago. Another user on the forum informed him that he was supposed to put some things into .setHTML() in a particular format. I eventually ended up putting the following HTML into our code and committed the changes:

.setHTML(‘<h5>’ + feature.properties.title + ‘</h6><p>’ + feature.properties.description  + ‘</p>’ + ‘<img src=”‘ + feature.properties.img + ‘” alt=”‘ + feature.properties.title + ‘” style=”width:175px;height:250px;”>’ + ‘<p><a href=”‘ + feature.properties.link + ‘”>’ + feature.properties.title + ‘</a></p>’)

This code essentially uses HTML, along with variables from our dataset that mapbox will recognize, to place what we want within the popup. This included a title, a description, an image and a link to a Wikipedia page.  I reloaded our website and perhaps yelled yes with a little too much enthusiasm when our badly formatted popups appeared when clicking on the points. Figuring out how to work this code felt much different from other times I’ve solved a problem. It’s almost like solving a puzzle, but more meaningful. Like an officer let you off with a warning and gave you 5 bucks for your trouble.

While the feeling of finally figuring out this problem was amazing, we did run into a few issues. First off, it may be because I am new to this, but the code looks ugly to me. By that I mean it seems like an awful lot of trouble to put html code into the parentheses using quotations along with Mapbox variables. This messed up how the properties in my text-editor (Atom) were colored, and it made it also made it super difficult to adjust the code without our website spazzing out. The code was very touchy.

The second sort of issue this code runs into is its reliance on Mapbox to provide all the features of the maps. The other groups developed projects that hardwired their dataset into their code. I imagine this allowed them to update the points and properties of their map in real time. Our map, however, required us to update the dataset, then the tileset, and then the map itself. All these layers of updates meant that it sometimes took a day for any changes in our dataset to be reflected on our website.

The last note I’d like to end on is talking about how easy all of this seems now. Building the popup and putting some HTML code into .setHTML () seems like such an obvious thing to do now. Even putting the code into our actual index.html file instead of pulling stuff from mapbox doesn’t seem like such a daunting task anymore. My newly acquired affection for popups has increased my enjoyment for programming. Hopefully the next problem is the same.

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October 25, 2018

Mapping Marvell and Indigenous Mapping

October 25, 2018 | By | No Comments

Expectations

At the beginning of this journey in CHI, I had no idea how we were going to go about learning to do culture digitally. Learning some Java, building a website and watching The Matrix seemed like some likely things. But learning how to create maps for your web pages using mapbox and leaflet had not come to mind as our first significant project. As an archaeologist, I probably should have realized that mapping would a vital part of representing cultural heritage digitally. Locating the culture of interest both spatially and temporally is a big step to saying anything meaningful.

Mapping Marvel

My group’s project will map significant locations in the Marvel comic and cinematic universe that are located in New York City. We all like Marvel, and we thought New York would give us the best selection of locations to map. So far, any significant location in the Marvel universe is fair game, but there is concern about what sort of narrative we’ll be mapping out. Do we want to talk about the origins of Heroes and Villains, major battle locations, or some other important aspect of Marvel? Further, how do we choose which locations represent this narrative? We can’t possibly talk about every character in the Marvel universe, so decisions have to be made about who to leave out. This process of deciding what is most important for us to map got me thinking about how I can use mapping in my future research as a Native American Archaeologist.

Indigenous Mapping

Determining what goes on the map is an act of power dependent on the cartographer’s own agenda and biases. Chapin et al. (2005) reminds us that the boundaries of nations are not natural features of the landscape; they are human constructs that often use mapping as a weapon to claim valuable land and resources. For instance, colonists in Canada made land claims during the late 19th century because they believed the natives were not “using” the land properly; i.e. not practicing agriculture. Indigenous mapping attempts to flip the script and make claims of their own with the use of maps.

The first instances of indigenous mapping were conducted in Canada and Alaska in the 1950s. It eventually spread out from there, and by the 1990s, Indigenous peoples from around the world were starting to use maps to their benefit. Their uses of cartography support their claims and defenses of ancestral lands and resources while also strengthening Indigenous political organization, economic planning and natural resource management. It also allows indigenous people to document their history and culture for the purposes of salvaging and reinforcing cultural identity (Chapin et al. 2005). These benefits are not to imply that Indigenous maps are better or more authentic. Rather, I believe it demonstrates that maps are not infallible pieces of information. Every mapmaker has their own agenda. Perhaps the best way to counteract this is to include as many perspectives as possible. Consequently, it is probably a good thing that our Marvel Map is a group project.

Robinson et al. (2016) describes this process of including others in what’s called participatory mapping. By including indigenous people as significant participants, researchers open up a dialogue and create maps that acknowledged Indigenous rights knowledge. In this process, Indigenous members work together to help decide which information is or is not relevant or reliable for mapping the places and environments important to them. The end result is ideally a map and relationship that’s both useful to indigenous and non-indigenous people. Of course, things don’t always go as planned, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Conclusion

This barely touches the surface of Indigenous mapping and especially mapping in general,  but it does bring attention to the fact that our maps have power and consequences. Maps should be negotiated with these thoughts in mind. So, maybe before my group goes and makes a definitive map of the marvel characters, we should go ask some of its characters what they believe to be the most important part of their stories. More realistically, a Map of Marvel in New York would include feedback from creators or people that have dedicated themselves to that universe. Unfortunately, it may unfeasible to do this when the project is due in a couple days. Mapping is hard.

 

Sources

Chapin, Mac, Zachary Lamb, and Bill Threlkeld (2005) Mapping Indigenous Lands. The annual Review of Anthropology 34:619-638

Robinson, Catherine J., Kirsten Maclean, Ro Hill, Ellie Bock and Phil Rist (2016) Participatory mapping to negotiate indigenous knowledge used to assess environmental risk. Sustain Sci 11: 115-126

 

 

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September 21, 2018

About Zachary Francis-Hapner: New CHI Fellow

September 21, 2018 | By | No Comments

Hello World! I am Zach, and this is currently my second year as an archaeology student in the anthropology PhD program. The first 23 years of my life were spent in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I graduated from Grand Valley State University. I’ve been fortunate enough to branch out geographically since then and experience some fun stuff. This includes backpacking across Europe, doing some archaeology in Ukraine, and walking dogs in New York City. There have been some unfortunate experiences as well, like being scammed by taxi drivers, not being able to find a free European bathroom and seeing some unfortunate things on the NYC subway. All of these experiences have made me who I am today and given me an appreciation for how people go through life. On some level, this is what cultural heritage is all about.

As with most people, I imagine a large part of my interest in cultural heritage stems from my family. My dad’s side of the family is Ojibwe while my mom’s side is essentially Polish. One upside to this multicultural upbringing was the availability of Indian Tacos and Kielbasa growing up. I lived in a suburban neighborhood and went to Catholic School until I graduated from high school which was a lot fun. But the downside was a lack of exposure to my Native American heritage. Growing up, I would have jumped at the chance to learn more about where I came from.

With many major revitalization efforts taking place on this front, I hope to one day help contribute to making cultural heritage more accessible with digital skills. Thus giving kids like myself a resource to discover their past. On a lighter note, I enjoy fantasy football, playing video games casually and am sort of a movie buff. I also have a girlfriend who’s the bee’s knees that I recommended read this blog. Hi Kayla!