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holteri1

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January 22, 2019

The Challenges of “Digitizing Indigenous History”

January 22, 2019 | By | No Comments

              While I face many challenges moving forward with my project for the CHI fellowship (I argued with a masthead for hours last week), the most challenging part of my online exhibit is respectfully displaying and interpreting the quill boxes created by makers in The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa. As most social scientists will tell you, because of the pervasiveness of certain structures of knowledge, we often fail to recognize how colonialism and imperialism have deeply affected our world views. Take maps, for example. While standardized maps may appear to be objective, attempting to present our worldly space in a straight forward way, they are derived from European understandings and partitioning of the globe. Many historians have argued that modern maps obscure how non-European cultures understood space and physical relationships, to say nothing of the Mercator’s misconception issue.

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fandinod

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January 20, 2019

Do I Want to be Remembered for This? Digitization and 1990s Anime Fandom

January 20, 2019 | By | No Comments

Part of the impetus for embarking on this project was the conservation of convention history. Many of the constituent components of early fandom have disappeared or were never recorded in the first place. As pop culture is seen as disposable–ask anyone who has longed for an original Action Comics #1–there was even less incentive to preserve the ordinary, functional elements of conventions. While awareness of the importance of pop culture artifacts has grown, partly spurred on by a new general appreciation for their perceived monetary value, this has not translated into into preservation of related convention ephemera. The records of conventions are seen as a means to an end, a finding aid to the treasures of the convention itself. However, digitizing records that were never meant for wide distribution brings up ethical considerations, as personal identities and interests are opened to the scrutiny of a mass audience, something never envisioned in the 1990s.

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TaylorPanczak

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January 14, 2019

Reflections on a past field season

January 14, 2019 | By | No Comments

This past December I had a short field season in Arequipa Peru where I finished collecting data for my master’s thesis. Even though this season was short (only 2 weeks), I feel like I learned as much as I did during my summer field season (2 months). One of the major things I learned about was that creating 3D models using Agisoft is incredibly time consuming and requires an extreme amount of patience. One of the major problems that I was having is that the models would not render and would not build a correct sparse could which is the first step in creating a model. Previously I thought that the main cause to all my problems was a lack of light but during this season I figured out that the direction of the light is as important, if not more important. I went back through photos I have previously taken that were used to create models successfully and I began to notice a trend. The trend was that the background was not only black but was always out of focus. I compared the successful photos with the ones I had taken recently and found that in the photos that had not successfully built a sparse cloud the background was semi-visible. So after learning this information, I change some settings on my camera and make sure that the background is completely obscured by shadow. Success! I finally get my first sparse cloud to successfully render after countless hours and many failures.

Although I am not an expert on the inner-workings of Agisoft, I have spent some time using the program and have a hypothesis to why having the background completely obscured is important. The simple answer is that the methodology I employ is predicated on having a fixed camera and the object being modeled being placed on a turn table which allows for different angles to be captured. Hypothetically the only objects that should be moving throughout the sets of pictures will be the projectile point and the surface of the turn table on which the point rests. If the background doesn’t have any recognizable features and is just a black blob, the program will only focus on the moving parts within each picture. If the background is illuminated at all, the program will attempt to add the black background into the model and create a spare cloud that looks nothing like the original object.

Overall, I am excited to finally start my thesis writing and work and I look forward to posting updates on this blog.

plemonsa

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December 14, 2018

What is your purpose?

December 14, 2018 | By | One Comment

That title sounds really deep. What I am proposing to ask yourself is: In my professional career, why am I doing what I do and does my position serve a purpose to the public?

My initial project goal was to develop a map of craniofacial morphology that would be embedded in our project website (http://macromorphoscopic.com/). The primary audience was biological anthropologists who are interested in macromorphoscopic trait research. When presenting my project pitch, Dr. Watrall suggested that I reconsider my audience as it would only reach a small group of people. He suggested that I use the map as more of an educational tool.

As I readjusted my aims for the project to reach a wider audience, I began to realize how little we engage with the general public in biological anthropology. I think this a disservice to both our discipline and the public. In regards to my specific research area, biological anthropologists spend a lot of time grappling with large theoretical concepts centered on human variation and race theory; yet, we spend little time disseminating results of this research outside our own academic journals. The interdisciplinary foundation of anthropological studies makes us well-equipped and knowledgeable on these theoretical concerns. We borrow from other sciences, such as ecologists,biologists, geneticists, social scientists, and environmentalists, to understand patterns of human variation and the many interacting variables that influence the human physical form.

My project now aims to educate young adults (middle and high school students and college undergraduates) on human variation and race theory in attempts to contribute to the current conversation surrounding race concerns in the United States. The website will teach students that biological race does not exist; however, systematic phenotypic human variation, due to environmental forces and population histories shaping genetic population structures, fueled social race into existence. As a result, social race has also influenced our patterns of population phenotypic differences due to selective mating and sociopolitical forces. The website homepage will provide the theoretical background for these issues as they are perceived by biological anthropologists, while the remaining pages will focus on the causative forces behind variation (i.e. local environment and genetics). The final page will present the map of macromorphoscopic trait variation to view the spatial distribution of craniofacial variation. Students and teachers will be provided with links to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association where they can view climate across time and space and to the Human Genome Project where they can download and explore genetic data. I will also provide quizzes for students focusing on the website content and will prompt students with explanations for each answer.

In the future, I hope to increase public engagement with my research and carry this mentality throughout my career. If you are researching for your own interests or a small subset of people in your discipline, what is the impact of your research? I encourage all academics to consider who you are reaching with your research and who else could be benefiting from the knowledge you have gained.

holteri1

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December 12, 2018

Finally, the Topic!

December 12, 2018 | By | No Comments

This week I met with a few of the MSU museum staff to explore museum collections and discuss the scope of the project. The intent is to create an online museum exhibition that demonstrates the variety and lineage of Native American crafts in the Great Lakes Area. Fortunately, there is a plethora of resources both in artifacts and in research resources at the museum and surrounding area to help craft of this exhibit.

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john5110

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December 7, 2018

Rememory

December 7, 2018 | By | No Comments

One of my most salient goals as an academic and a writer, as a person, is perhaps directly related to one of my greatest fears: forgetting home, and thus, losing home. While many of our technologies and actions today reflect globalization and the sharing of ideas, cultural practices, and artifacts, it is often driven by dominant groups in power. For example, in the case of gentrification, neighborhoods and communities often change when those with financial resources and social power enter previously “undesirable” areas. The community often receives a lot more attention and access to quality resources, but the costs include systemic removal—driven by capitalism. When people of a community (are re)move(d), often the cultural practices and spaces of a community also (are re)move(d).

Thus, my project is about rememory of self and s/place. We’re socialized through various institutions as well as our communities; however, when Western schooling works as a tool for assimilation and community is being attacked, sustaining cultural practices and embodied knowledges can be quite difficult. My interests somehow guided me organically to my proposed project. I was confused with out to balance the theoretical with the practice–with the importance of digital humanities being in conversation with questions of access. What would it mean to create something that was accessible, and more than that, reflected my pedagogical orientations in a way that continued to challenge me.

As in most situations when I am perplexed and overwhelmed, I called my mother. When I told her about my project, centered on mapping sites of educational memory in New Orleans, her first response was, “but no one has anything left.” She was alluding to Hurricane Katrina and the loss of our peoples (through passing and removal) and artifacts. In our own home, we loss not only loved ones, but many of our physical artifacts. For my mother who archived joy, sadness, about community, this was particularly difficult. Now, many New Orleanians approach their own loss with reluctant acceptance. The problem, she meant, was, “That’s going to be difficult. Who would you ask? What could they bring?”

While this may seem unimportant for some, for many, material cultural artifacts appear divorced from the people. This is often an ideology that justifies stolen cultural memory and the lack of willingness to return. Take Tarita Alarcón Rapu, the governor of Easter Island, and the indigenous Rapanui people who are asking the British Museum to return Hoa Hakananai’a (“lost or stolen friend”), ancient sculpture featuring the Rapa Nui’s famed stone faces. The British Museum has displayed it in London for the past 150 years. The U.K.’s Royal Navy stole it from the indigenous Rapanui people in 1868. What the delegation who traveled to London want to get across, is that Hoa Hakananai’a is not simply a rock, a statue. As Anakena Manutomatoma told The Guardian, “We want the museum to understand that the moai are our family, not just rocks. For us [the statue] is a brother; but for them it is a souvenir or an attraction,” (as cited by Herreria, 2018).

While I knew many of the personal cultural artifacts would be unavailable, I considered visiting archives and knew that I would have to make more of an effort to reach out to New Orleanians. Two days later, my mother called to say, “I got a few people you can talk to. They’re excited. You’re going to get a lot of stories.” While the artifacts I am in search for are not as sacred as Hoa Hakananai’a, these memories occurred in sacred s/places. For me, this was the most important aspect of the work. It’s bringing attention to what people consider is not sacred, to what some believe is forgotten.

I take this work up while drawing upon various scholars, but an important one is Leigh Patel (2015) who argues that settler colonialism works to replace and erase Native peoples. Erasing the histories of People of Color is a part of this project. Restricting access to one’s histories and ancestors is a part of the settler colonialist project as well. I see digital tools as part of the praxis of decolonization. This leads to another aspect that I continue to cycle back to: what does it mean to share the stories of others and how does the world of the digital humanities play a role in this?

References

Patel, L. (2015). Decolonizing educational research: From ownership to answerability. Routledge.

dglovsky

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December 7, 2018

Teaching Early African History/Studies with a Digital Lens

December 7, 2018 | By | No Comments

I recently attended a panel on teaching pre-1800 African history using digital humanities. The panel focused on early African history, but some of the presentations ignored the digital humanities portion of the title and only really focused on the pre-1800 part. Perhaps the theme of the panel changed after the program was printed, or maybe the presenters just decided to go in a different direction. Either way, the panel was interesting and gave me some new ideas about (re)structuring an early African history syllabus. The question I’d like to pose here is how does one do early digital African history?

Seven years ago, Richard Reid noted a decline in the number of African historians looking at pre-colonial topics. He blamed this decrease, and the corresponding increase in focus on colonial and post-colonial history, on a scholarly belief in the grand importance of the twentieth century. I would argue this is also related to the often voluminous archival record for the colonial period, as well as the relative ease of doing more recent oral history. These same questions I believe explain the lack of emphasis in digital tools to understand the more distant African past, but also emphasize the importance of using what tools we have to bring out more information about periods where the lack of written sources and documents may leave gaping silences.

Maps of pre-colonial polities often misrepresent these territories as exact, bounded physical spaces, when in actuality power was diffuse and the geographic peripheries of particular spaces were often in flux, and can be difficult if not impossible to replicate. This asks us to potentially be more creative in our “mapping.” In his work on pre-colonial Bornu, Vincent Hiribarren uses cartograms to demonstrate the structure of the state of Bornu, without claiming that these are exact. He has “maps” of Bornu, but makes clear that there are “only schematised representations” and “should not be understood as rigorous and definitive maps.”

The field of African history with the largest digital presence is unsurprisingly the one with the largest archival presence: the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Websites like Slave Voyages and Liberated Africans offer large amounts of data to help students and educators better understand the past.

How to extend this data to projects that may not have such readily available data? I do look at the late pre-colonial period, but am primarily a colonial and post-colonial historian. My own digital interests lie in the colonial and post-colonial periods, so I am not necessarily the right person to answer this. But other (non-written) evidence may be a way to bring digital tools into the classroom and onto the syllabus. Archaeology and historical linguistics are tools used to get understand the African past, and can be used and taught with digital formats in mind. Regardless of how they are used, if we believe digital tools are crucial to teaching about more contemporary periods, it is important that we extend and adapt these tools to teaching about more distant pasts.

cartyrya

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December 6, 2018

Rethinking Quantification in African History

December 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

Numbers remain unwelcome facets of African history. Foreigners collected most of them until independence, and after independence the published numbers tend to reflect Africa’s lack in terms of economic and social development. Of course, these numbers, most of which have been extrapolated from trade and population statistics, reflect the preoccupations of those who collected them. Thus, many African historians rightly ignore the numbers to tell other types of African history.

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franc230

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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.

koutiany

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December 5, 2018

What does Digital Humanities mean to you?

December 5, 2018 | By | No Comments

A few days ago, in the office, my co-workers referred to me as the “DH person”. “The DH group” is also used to refer to the scholars on MSU campus who work with Digital Humanities. On the one hand, I am proud to be recognized as a “DH person.” On the other hand, I still sense the connotation of that description; there is a distinction between the “DH people” and the “non – DH people”. However, I would like to argue that “DH” should never be a tag that we use to make ourselves and our works look fancier, instead, DH is embedded in our academic activities in terms of studying, researching, teaching, etc. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make DH more accessible, promote DH by showing our co-workers, and the general public audience what they can do with DH. I believe the rise in popularity of DH will eventually benefit the development of huminites as a whole.

The “you” in the title of this blog does not only stand for our fellow graduate students, professors, but also for the general public regards their age and educational backgrounds. Within the field of humanities in the university setting, software makes the analysis process for quantitative research more efficient. More and more data are documented through digital forms, which makes them accessible to a larger audience. With the development of technology, digital learning and researching tools can be seen everywhere in our daily life. E-books and online learning systems provide students who live in remote areas access to acquire knowledge, which benefits not only the people in the school setting, but also everyone who has the desire for learning in various fields. Living in this digital age, we are no longer isolated by geographic distance.

DH is nothing scary. DH is about humanities scholars using digital tools to conduct research, to study and to teach in a more appealing way. DH is never the end goal, but a means. A means that assists humanities to step further, look deeper, and speak louder. Within the framework of CHI fellowship, I, as a German scholar focusing on cultural studies, can combine various forms of materials with the assistance of digital tools and present them to a wider audience. The project I am currently working on is presenting the stories of the German national football team players with immigration background. A map that shows the player’s heritage provides a direct visual assistant. Projects such as this could be a gateway for German language students to develop a better understanding of the multicultural situation in Germany. Currently the project is only available in English, however, more language options could be added at a later stage. Combining football and language teaching could also trigger the learner’s enthusiasm for using the language in a real-life setting, rather than simply finishing activities in a textbook. The project as such could strongly benefit language teaching and turn the learning process towards a more communicative way.

Although DH may not seem like a scary term for us, the “DH people”, it could still be intimidating for those who are not familiar with it. We should not be content with the “glory” DH brought us and forget the original intention that brought us to work with DH: presenting our research in a more comprehensive way; making our research more accessible to a larger audience; and overall, bringing humanities to the next era.