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Jack Biggs

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October 18, 2017

The Future of the Past

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Archaeologists and anthropologist back in the day (say around the later Victorian era and the early 20th century) had it easy in terms of research and methodologies.  Study subjects and specimens were abundant while strict and standardized methodologies were not.  Researchers just went out and both literally and physically grabbed data. They weren’t data necessarily that they needed, but data they wanted.  Many times, collection techniques were…less than completely ethical, but as has been the long trend in human history, we learn from our mistakes.

As data collection becomes thankfully more regulated by ethics committees and conversations with indigenous communities becomes the norm, there has been an increasing demand to squeeze as much data out of already collected artifacts (and in my case, human skeletal remains).  This desire to see what else these objects and bones can tell us has benefitted immensely via a symbiotic relationship with improved technological and digital advances.  After initial studies of objects, they are sometimes rarely studied again and just sit on shelves collecting dust or are placed in boxes and put in dark and forgotten corners.  This more-or-less extinguishes their ability to continue their narrative as some researchers feel that little more information can be gained from them.

However, the massive leaps forward in digitization of cultural and biological objects within the past decade have completely altered data collection techniques of the future.  As I have discussed in previous posts, the research potentials of photogrammetry (creating 3D models out of a series of photos) has been a game-changer here at MSU in the way we study skulls by mapping 3D landmarks.  However, we implemented another use for photogrammetry this past summer in the field.  We created photogrammetry models of our excavation units which give better definition than just pictures and help us to physically look at the physical relationships of objects to each other and to surrounding features.  Not only does this digitally preserve our excavations, which have permanently altered the landscape, but it also allows us to go back and possibly make new interpretations upon a second viewing of the artifacts.

 

Screenshots from a 3D model of a bone cluster covered in flowstone from the cave site of Actun Chanona, Belize.

Another big initiative in the past few decades has been for more open access to data and excavations and to bring in the general public into the conversation.  We are interacting peoples’ pasts and ancestors, so it is our duty to give them the information we uncover (bad um tss).  Free and public digital spaces, such as Sketchfab, allows the general public to access worlds and cultures in a three-dimensional manner when in the past, they would have to be content with maps in research reports.  Sketchfab is a free and open-source 3D modeling venue where users can easily navigate and view anything that people have made 3D models of.  For example, the discovery of England’s Richard the III in 2012 prompted international media attention (Buckley et al. 2013).  However, without access to scholarly sources and few public sources that showcased specifics, the general public had to imagine what his burial space and skeletal remains looked like.  The archaeological team that uncovered him created a photogrammetry model and hosted it on Sktechfab, giving everyone the opportunity to see for themselves how the excavations took place and what the burial of an early English king looked like (Pappas 2016).

 

Screenshots of King Richard III’s burial 3D model hosted on Sketchfab. (Click here or on the photo to interact with the model on Sketchfab)

I know that I’ve discussed photogrammetry and 3D modeling before at nausea, but its potential cannot be overstated.  Along with scholarly research comes the responsibility to communicate our findings back to the public.  Using 3D models (or other forms of visualization) gives people from all over the world the chance to look at, rotate, and manipulate these objects in digital space.  Descriptions of objects are okay – we get the general idea.  Drawings and sketches are helpful to contextualize.  Photos are good to give us more context and help us understand the scale and details of the objects.  Yet digital models make the artifact much more visceral; you can imagine yourself on the side of Richard III’s burial looking in and seeing it from different angles.  You can see yourself holding and moving ceramic vessel in your hands as you rotate the model on the screen.  It allows scholars to get digital data and gives the public not just more information; it gives them an experience.

Screenshots from an Ancient Maya chocolate vase 3D model (Click here or on the photo to interact with the model on Sketchfab)

 

Newer doesn’t always mean better.  But in this case, the recent strides that have been made in 3D modeling make it easier than ever to not only create models, but to share those models with a wider audience, bring them into the conversation, and give people an experiential relationship with something that may be on the far side of the world.

Sources:

Buckley et al. 2013. ‘The king in the car park’: new light on the death and burial of Richard III in the Grey Friars church, Leicester, in 1485. Antiquity, 87: 519-538.

Pappas, Stephanie. “New 3D View of Richard III’s Humble Grave Revealed.” Live Science. 22 Mar. 2016. https://www.livescience.com/54117-new-3d-model-of-richard-iii-grave.html

 

dixonel7

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October 18, 2017

Introducing Elise Dixon (CHI Fellow)

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Elise Dixon and I am a third-year PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures program. I am very excited to be a part of the 2017-2018 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship– it fits very well with my research interests. My research focuses on queer and feminist multimodal composing through a cultural rhetorics lens. In most of my work, I employ feminist, queer and cultural rhetorics orientations to think about the ways queer people, military wives, and writing centers “compose” themselves through writing and creating. These may seem to be disparate interests, and in some aspects, they are. However, in all of my research work, I am focusing in on how people and organizations express their identities through various composing practices.  Because of these interests, the CHI fellowship is a perfect fit.

I am working through my comprehensive exams currently and I have been ruminating quite a bit on what I plan for my dissertation. I was originally planning to make my CHI fellowship project my first foray into my diss. In my comprehensive exams, I am focusing on how multimodal composing can support queer and feminist rhetorics. What I am bumping up against is that the voices most amplified in queer and feminist rhetorics are often white voices. This does not mean that people of color aren’t doing queer and feminist multimodal composing; it means that the modes of composing discussed by scholars of color are undervalued by these disciplines that have been shaped by many multiple white people. I am trying to find ways to address this in my work, and hopefully I can integrate that into my CHI fellowship project.

 

My original plan for my CHI fellowship project was to examine some pieces of ephemera and zines from the MSU Queer Archive and Zine Archive and create a small digital archive of my own of them. I still intend to do this, but now I intend to be careful to look at the creation of these objects from a cultural rhetorics lens and foregrounding the work of people of color.  I look forward to exploring this project more through this CHI project. I think it will help me develop some direction for my dissertation and give me time to practice and learn how to code and make digital projects from scratch.

 

I’m so grateful to have this fellowship this year. Working alongside the other fellows is a highlight of my week, and I am looking forward to working hard on this project throughout the year.

fandinod

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October 15, 2017

Future Tense – Digital Humanities, Technology, and the Scholar

October 15, 2017 | By | No Comments

As a historian in training in academia today, the question of technology goes beyond the subjects I study into the current state of the profession I have chosen to enter. In teaching digital tools to undergraduate classes I see a break as substantial as the line between the generation before and after the advent of the internet. Part of my motivation to become a Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow was to explore how the digital humanities have transformed other disciplines and find ways to work on a digital project that incorporated my own philosophies and worked in tandem with my future research goals.
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Julia DeCook

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October 12, 2017

Cat memes and Identity – Archives and Digital Worlds

October 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

The reason why I wanted to do this fellowship was not only to expand my knowledge of computational/digital methods of approaching cultural heritage questions but also to have this methodological knowledge situated in appropriate theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Particularly, something I have noticed often in data-driven approaches to research within my own discipline is the lack of positioning – what does this data mean? How did it come to be, and what does it signify for larger historical, cultural, and social realms?

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Nicole Raslich

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October 9, 2017

Digitizing our Cultural Heritage

October 9, 2017 | By | No Comments

My own recent ethnohistoric research for family genealogy made me think about ChiMatrix and the need to digitize old documents public documents. Anyone who has ever used county libers will agree but for those of you who have not, let me explain. Prior to the 1960’s, all births, deaths and marriages were recorded by hand, in large ledger type books called libers. These books are huge, leather bound tomes, inscribed by hand. They go back to various decades, the ones in Saginaw County Michigan, for example, go back to the 1830’s with a small, three ring binder of marriages going back to 1825. As these tomes are hand-written, the penmanship varies as does the legibility of said documents.

Using these documents can be problematic for several reasons. One, they are “protected public documents” according to the County Clerk, so they cannot be photographed. Photographing or scanning with a handheld scanner would allow them to be digitized and put into a database. Two, when you require a certified copy, a county employee must come over and handwrite the information they see, then type that up into a legal, embossed certificate. This is problematic as the penmanship is open to interpretation. There were several times when at least three workers would confer about a letter or word written and then come to a consensus. Being unfamiliar with Ojibwa names, they would take most often, not take advice on spelling, trying to decipher it on their own. Three, they are only available during the hours of the office. The office opens at 9 a.m. and documents are done being printed by 4:45 p.m. Four, they are extremely fragile and heavy, (not a good combination) stored on shelves with rollers. The leather bindings break down after several decades and the tomes are now taped together, with labels taped on the outside. Several of them had the pages inside laminated, which was nice since they are handled by the public. Sometimes, due to the weight, the books are dropped and damaged upon being removed from the shelving units.

These books hold a wealth of information and are invaluable references for any person doing historical research. As such, they need to be preserved and cared for in a more user-friendly way. Scanning would allow them to be run through handwriting analysis software and may take some of the user error out of the current transcription process. Here is an example: I was searching for a death record of an individual and found the written line in the liber. I then called the office workers over to make the certified copy. None of us could read the “cause of death” in entirety. We all agreed it said ‘_____ over by ___s.’ The death occurred in 1878. The first word appeared to start with an ‘R’ so everyone came to the consensus that it must read “run over by cars.” This is what was typed into the official record of death, as the official cause of death. Something didn’t seem right about this to me so I considered the history of automobiles since I’m from Flint and Michigan is the birthplace of the American auto industry. The first American gasoline engine was developed in 1895, and the first sale of an American gasoline car was in 1896, although there were those that ran on steam, they were few and far between . Cars in 1900 were a rarity, especially in a rural area such as Saginaw County, making this cause of death unlikely as it was multiple cars. The workers from the office did not want to change anything as they could not make out any other words and nothing else seemed logical, even though historically, this is highly unlikely.

The digitization of these tomes would enhance their usability and make the information more accessible to people who may not have the resources to travel to each county when searching for this information. It would also help people with vision and mobility problems use these documents. I am aware of the lack of funding our county records offices receive and of the thousands of work hours it takes to digitize documents. In no way am I implying a lack of effort on the staff of the County Clerk offices. The people in the Saginaw County Clerk’s office were wonderful, helpful, and friendly. The County Clerk himself even came out to answer several of my questions. I believe by digitally preserving records such as this, we can preserve and increase the access to our cultural heritage for generations to come.

carlinek

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October 5, 2017

Different kinds of distance: some thoughts on maps

October 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

This is my second blog post for the CHI fellowship. Today I’m thinking and writing about digital maps, and how those let us see cultural and social divides in the present and the past.

Africa’s a Country, a website whose purpose is to counter that old mistake Western people make about Africa, recently published a piece about Johnny Miller’s aerial photographs of contemporary South African inequality. Miller’s photographs are taken from the air (what he called the “nadir zone”). The purpose of the photos is to highlight the spatial proximity of highly unequal communities, but also to show the powerful-but-narrow infrastructure barriers that divide them (highway ramps, fences, ditches).

I’ve also spent a lot of time recently looking at South Africa from the air, but through maps – usually Google maps, sometimes a historical map of the Eastern Cape region in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Some of my research is about the history of migration – of people and commodities – in the Eastern Cape. A paper I’m currently working on investigates the circulation network of a particular newspaper, through the postal address information given by people who entered prize competitions in the paper. As I find addresses, I plug the town name into Google maps, to see how far away the place is from East London where the newspaper was published.

But Miller’s aerial maps of inequality got me thinking about how my Google maps don’t show all the types of distance and difficulty that existed historically – the economic or infrastructural distances that might inflate the physical distance from point A to B. Some historical maps do this, by showing old road networks and political boundaries. But even they can’t show the degree of difficulty it takes a person to cross a boundary – a particularly salient problem in South African history when black people’s movement between urban and rural areas depended on a pass.

One of the potential projects that I came to the CHI fellowship with was to map consumer/newspaper subscriber networks in early-twentieth century South Africa. But how would you create a map that showed not just physical distance, infrastructural barriers, and political borders, but also degrees of difficulty that it might take for a person or object to cross even a very short distance?

Cody M

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October 3, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Cody Mejeur

October 3, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Cody Mejeur, and I’m extremely excited to be joining the CHI Fellows program for 2017-18. I’m a PhD student in the Department of English at MSU working at the intersection of many related areas: new media, narrative theory, game studies, cognitive humanities, queer studies, and digital humanities. That sounds like a lot (because it is!), but I focus my work on video game narrative. Specifically, I am interested in how games are changing our understanding of narrative, and my dissertation, titled Playing/Queering Narrative: Narrative Experiences and Interfaces in Video Games, develops a narrative theory built from the ground up on the interrelationship of narrative and play in games.

Game studies and gaming culture have grown exponentially in the past 20 years, but they have also developed a number of blindspots that have left some peoples marginalized or excluded. In gaming culture this is most evident in the debates surrounding representation and social justice that came to a head in the #GamerGate movement, which saw large groups of gamers working to harass and silence women, people of color, and LGBTQ folk. Game studies has seen similar issues, such as the infamous narratology/ludology debates, wherein some theorists argued that narrative theory and literary studies were threatening to colonize or take over game studies. My dissertation argues that these attempts to secure the borders of games and game studies are related: they both stem from a desire to defend the culture and study of games from perceived threats, whether they be literary theorists or marginalized peoples seeking to politicize games.

Rather than attempt to undo these tensions—that toothpaste is decidedly out of the tube—my dissertation seeks to move forward by constructing a narrative theory specific to games. Beyond looking at characters, cutscenes, and plots, I argue that the experience of play (running, fighting, scoring, etc.) is an essential part of game narrative. Play experiences are variable and extremely dependent on the player’s situation and context, and I turn to queer/feminist and cognitive narratologies to explain how they become narratives that construct our sense of (virtual) reality. This narrative process is inherently playful, and can potentially lead to emergent, transformative, and queer possibilities for individual and collective world-building.

As a CHI fellow, I’ll be working on the LGBTQ Video Game Archive (https://lgbtqgamearchive.com), founded by Adrienne Shaw. The archive seeks to catalogue and preserve all instances of LGBTQ representation throughout video game history. This project is especially necessary given the ephemeral nature of its source materials. Many of the sources detailing LGBTQrepresentations are blogs, wikis, and smaller websites devoted to queer gaming communities, and there is a constant danger of them going offline with little or no notice if their owners or authors can no longer maintain them. My project will involve saving copies of all websites and media objects that the archive references, and organizing them into an Omeka repository that will be stored at the Strong National Museum of Play. By preserving these resources, we can ensure that the cultural heritage of LGBTQ representation in games is publicly available to future gaymers and scholars.

I look forward to working alongside the other CHI Fellows on innovative approaches to Cultural Heritage Informatics, and to acquiring new skills with coding and digital tools and methodologies. Can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

fandinod

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September 29, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Daniel Fandino

September 29, 2017 | By | No Comments

Greetings traveler on the great ocean of knowledge that is the internet! My name is Daniel Fandino and I am a first year PhD student in the Department of History at Michigan State University and a 2017 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow. My research is centered on the study of modern Japan with a focus on U.S. – Japanese relations and the intersection of popular culture, technology, and nationalism. Before arriving at Michigan State I earned my Master’s degree in History from the University of Central Florida and then spent the next few years living in Shanghai, Taipei, and Tokyo. Although my academic pursuits primarily revolve around Japanese history I have been able to explore other areas of personal interest such as fandom and video games by assisting in editing a collected volume of essays on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, contributing to an encyclopedia of Japanese horror films, and writing about dark tourism in the massively multiplayer game EVE Online.

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Jack Biggs

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September 27, 2017

(Re)Introducing CHI Fellow Jack Biggs

September 27, 2017 | By | No Comments

Greetings everyone!  My name is Jack Biggs and if my name sounds familiar, that is because I was a CHI Fellow during the last academic year and was fortunate enough the be a returning Fellow for this year.  I am now a 4th year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology here at Michigan State University focusing on bioarchaeology of the ancient Maya.  Although my research interests haven’t changed all that much since my first intro post last fall, I’ll go ahead and re-hash what Ispecifically study and some additions and changes since that last initial post.

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ellio252

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September 23, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Emily Joan Elliott

September 23, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi All! My name is Emily Joan Elliott, and I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at MSU. I also happen to be a 2017-2018 CHI Fellow. I grew up in the Bronx, New York, and earned my BA in history at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2012. There, I began my pursuit of studying Russian language and history.

I began my doctoral program of study in the History Department at MSU in fall 2012. I had no clearly defined dissertation topic when I began, but my advisor introduced me to migration in the Soviet Union. Migration is a good fit for me. I grew up in New York City, one of the great migration capitals of the world. I am interested in how migrants relate to their previous homes and forge new ones after moving. My dissertation, “Migrants and Muscovites: The Boundaries of Belonging in Moscow, 1971-2002,” examines temporary labor migration to Moscow from other parts of the Soviet Union. I investigate how migrants’ methods of and desires for relocation overlapped with and diverged from official regulations and goals for migration. I argue that shared Soviet identity, culture, and education made the process of becoming a Muscovite easier in the Soviet period than the post-Soviet one.

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