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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.

plemonsa

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November 28, 2018

It’s All About the Deliverables

November 28, 2018 | By | No Comments

We, as academics, are conditioned to write grant and project proposals for research that we are interested in pursuing. We have our general format that we follow for these proposals…introduction, background information, research problem and questions, materials and methods, and potential impacts of the research project. However, a large focus of research proposals today, particularly grant proposals, are highly concerned with the “Deliverables” portion. Deliverables refer to the tangible products that will come from the project and the ways in which you will disseminate your results, including public presentations, development of software, public release of raw data in some forms, and analytical programs. This is an important component of your project proposal as it forces you consider who will be your target audience, how you will engage with the audience, and what you hope your project will provide to that community. Is the primary goal of your research to educate? Provide a useful tool? Provide a new method? Create a platform to connect researchers with a common interest?

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dglovsky

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November 20, 2018

Who will read my academic book? Telling public stories about Africa and Africans

November 20, 2018 | By | No Comments

As a graduate student 90+% of the way through writing my dissertation, I often have ask myself this question: how many people will ever read anything I write? My dissertation will be read by my committee members, maybe a couple of historian friends, grad students or professors in the countries I study, maybe future grad students researching these areas, and perhaps less likely, family members or people in the communities I study. This problem is even more of an issue when you get to the production of actual physical books, which often cost absurd amounts of money that makes them impractical for the vast majority of people.

This unfortunate fact makes me think about how to get across some of the individual and collective stories of my dissertation. I spent about eight months speaking with over 350 people in rural West African borderlands, and have about 150 hours of interviews from more than 100 different communities. How can I share these stories in a way that allows “the public” to engage with them? People in the communities I study in Senegal may not be able to read an academic book I write due to accessibility, but they could access publicly available stories posted on the Internet. My friends and family here in the U.S. will likely not read my dissertation, because the locations where it takes place seem foreign and confusing, but they could browse an online exhibit highlighting some of the most important themes of the migration stories people told me.

The CHI Fellowship has of course taught me digital skills, but it has also forced me to reckon more with ideas of public engagement. I may not read academic books most days, but I find myself often reading websites like Africa is a Country to find accessible looks at some of the most pressing issues facing Africa today, as well as reflections on African history, culture, etc. Probably a few times a month, I listen to podcasts like MSU’s Africa Past and PresentNew Books in African Studies, or Ufahamu Africa, which provide perspectives on different topics that I may not seek out on my own. There are also less academic podcasts like the BBC’s Africa Today or VOA’s Africa News Tonight.

This is a roundabout way of saying that there are a wide variety of ways to engage publicly (my guess is some podcasts gets more listens than the academic book gets reads, especially among people outside of the subject area). This is particularly true of podcasts associated with news producers like the BBC. The same is often true in classroom settings. In a class I co-taught online last summer, my students listened to multiple podcasts on American sports history, which allowed them to engage with a different form of media, one they are more likely to consume on a daily basis.

Digital projects like the University of Kansas’ Migration Stories, which looks at African immigrants to the “Midwest,” publicly share stories that might otherwise go unrecognized by the general public. This sort of engagement can be a teaching tool, not just in the classroom, but oriented to the public at large. My own research focuses on rural cross-border migration in four different West African countries, but also tells stories of individual, family, and communal migration. Through the CHI Fellowship, I am developing a project that brings the stories of these rural West Africans to a larger audience, and that recognizes the importance of their stories without making people sit down to read a 350-page book or dissertation.

fandinod

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November 16, 2018

To the Beginning: Anime and American Fandom in the 1980s

November 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

The first problem to resolve in mapping out American anime fandom is where to situate a start point for the project. The first major anime convention in the United States was Project A-Kon, first held in 1990. Before this point, smaller anime meetings were held as stand-alone local events by clubs or as part of larger conventions which catered to broader American fandom. This was quite typical of conventions on both sides of the Pacific, an example of which is the long running Japanese science fiction convention Nihon SF Taikai (日本SF大会) which had a heavy emphasis on American media.

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franc230

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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.

holteri1

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November 13, 2018

Getting Digital into the Humanities

November 13, 2018 | By | No Comments

I recently attended a digital round table at a conference on Asian that focused on open access, online journals and the difficulty in maintaining the journal both financially and technically. While the presenters clearly cared very deeply for their journals and upholding academic integrity, they were just as plainly overwhelmed with the management of a WordPress site. One professor mentioned that they had issues moving forward with the journal because they needed to get IT people involved with a site that only housed text and photos.

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