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March 29, 2019

The Journey through Metadata

March 29, 2019 | By | No Comments


               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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February 26, 2019

Metadata, Metadata, Metadata

February 26, 2019 | By | No Comments

My project entails the creation of a digital library for the management and public outreach of archaeological cultural heritage. The initial work towards this goal has entailed the building a metadata scheme. That is, finding the right data to describe data. There are a number of factors that go into describing data, but the most important and obvious goal should be its usefulness. There are three things I have done so far that I think have helped to make my metadata scheme useful:

  1. Researching established metadata schemes
  2. Utilizing metadata schemes already in use for the collections.
  3. Learning the collections management system, KORA, to better build my metadata scheme.

Established metadata schemes already exist to describe resources. Utilizing one or more of these uniform systems to describe data has many benefits. First, it makes it easier to compare and search through different collections from different organizations if the entities for describing those collections are the same. Secondly, it does some of the work for you by providing a useful list of possible terms to use that you may not have thought of. The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, for example, provides standard metadata entities and their definitions for describing resources. These include 15 “core properties” such as contributor, coverage, creator, date, description, identifier, etc. These entities are included in my metadata scheme, especially for the description of documentary resources like articles, newspaper clippings, and journals.

Using established, international metadata schemes is an important way to clearly organize and describe your data in a way that can be compared and clearly understood. But it is also important to transfer data that is already in the books. These collections are already being managed, and as such, have established metadata describing these collections. Transferring data already on record into the digital library will be much easier if the entities from both systems are somewhat analogous. To that end, I am using entities from collections management software already being utilized on campus to influence my choice of entities and the organization of the metadata scheme. ARGUS is one such software system.

The organization of the metadata scheme is also being heavily influenced by KORA; the collections management software program I am utilizing to build the digital library. The structure of KORA is organized around projects, forms, pages, fields and records.  The project will likely contain many forms which will be equivalent to the individual collections within the digital library. The metadata scheme will then be put into pages which will contain fields where data can be entered. The pages and fields will be the metadata scheme. A record will be the actual data describing an object that has been entered into the metadata scheme. The goal for my next blog post is to better describe the actual organization of my metadata scheme after putting it into KORA.



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.



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.



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 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] })


.setHTML( )



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>’ + + ‘</h6><p>’ +  + ‘</p>’ + ‘<img src=”‘ + + ‘” alt=”‘ + + ‘” style=”width:175px;height:250px;”>’ + ‘<p><a href=”‘ + + ‘”>’ + + ‘</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.



October 25, 2018

Mapping Marvell and Indigenous Mapping

October 25, 2018 | By | No Comments


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.


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.



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





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!