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May 5, 2017

Partial connections in ways of knowing: Technocrats vs. The Database

May 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

In some of my earlier blogging in CHI, I reflected on the extent to which a digital database would reflect the ways of thinking and knowing that were used by the people who produced the data points from which the database is built. Here, I try to collect those thoughts.

The epistemology of the database and the epistemology of hydroelectric planners only have “partial connections” (Marisol de la Cadena, Earth Beings, 2016). This fact brings advantages and weaknesses to scholarship based on a database such as this. A key strength is that the data reflects the areas of interest of historical actors; a limitation is that it recombines and reframes the information in ways that may not actually bear relevance to people’s actual lives.

In the context of this database about hydroelectric planning in late colonial Uganda and Kenya, the constraints of this limitation are somewhat minimized because the source information already exists in tabular form. Digitizing and recombining hydroelectric records introduces contemporary epistemologies to reframe historical knowledge in a way that is largely foreign to the discipline of history – but I do not think that it is an activity that would have seemed totally foreign to the technocrats of the Uganda Electricity Board of the 1950s, who were already beginning to experiment with the use of computers to analyze their data. To see the creation of a digital database from their knowledge as a natural extension of it would be teleological, but I think it would be an overstatement to say that the two epistemologies are only coincidental.



May 5, 2017

Launch of Immigrant Imprints!

May 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

I’m happy to announce the launch of my project, Immigrant Imprints: Filipinx Spaces in Michigan. The site serves as a response to and exploration of the diminishment of cultural spaces amidst urban development. By following one culture’s narrative, the site tracks Filipinx American settlement and displacement in Michigan, and particularly highlights their struggle to establish and sustain cultural space, such as community centers, landmarks, murals, and other ‘imprints’ within major cities. I intended the site to be accessible for audiences seeking to learn about Filipinx history and community in Michigan, as well as for audiences seeking a more in-depth exploration of how the impact of Filipinx spaces could be read and assessed within the public sphere. Both the overview and analytical “read more” layers construct an overall narrative about Filipinx American’s limited agency in sustaining cultural space and representative voice within larger public dialogues.
After the Home page’s description of the project, users can navigate three subpages which are organized to provide a historical look at Filipinx settlement:

  • “The Early Filipinxs” explores what many have referred to as the first wave of Filipinx immigrants, the government-sponsored students (Pensionados) who attended American universities. Two interactive maps allow users to click on the marked locales and neighborhoods wherein many of the students from the 1910s and 20’s resided while going to school. Each pinned address also reveals the student’s name, which college or university they attended, and their majors. Because there is limited information on the lives of these students, the page asks visitors to pursue questions regarding settlement trends and the stability of residence alongside knowledge of the developed spaces that reside there now.
  • “Community Spaces” jumps to the 1960s-70s by following the three-decade long development of Michigan’s only Filipinx community center. A description and interactive timeline of the Philippine American Cultural Center of Michigan (PACCM) gives users a glimpse into the amount of time, effort, and multi-generational dedication behind the establishment of a cultural center, as well as the sorts of challenges that impede this process.
  • The subject of “Murals” is the community artwork dedicated to hate crime victim Vincent Chin. Descriptions of the Vincent Chin mural in Detroit’s struggling Chinatown and mural at Grand River Creative Corridor reveal Asian Pacific Islander communities’ attempt to voice beliefs about local identity, justice, and hopes for inclusion and growth within the city. The page concludes with the murals’ fates and an analysis of their impact.

The project has been a joy to work on this last year, and I’m excited to extend other features of the site during the summer. I plan to introduce further theoretical considerations for reading the impact of material and place rhetorics on the public sphere, populate the interactive maps with more Pensionado addresses, and potentially include more historical documents and interviews from PACCM.
As Los Angeles, the city with the highest Filipinx population, has finally pushed to document and preserve Filipinx American spaces through their Office of Historic Resources, we are increasingly realizing the danger that ethnic spaces face in light of urban development across major cities. Cultural groups have played significant roles in the history and development of cities, and by understanding the power and voice behind ethnic spaces, we can use their economic and cultural advantages to democratically shape local development and identity.

Autumn Beyer


May 4, 2017

Launch of Capturing Campus Cuisine!

May 4, 2017 | By | No Comments

I am very pleased to announce the launch of Capturing Campus Cuisine (! This website showcases a research project co-created by Autumn Beyer and Susan Kooiman as Campus Archaeology Fellows. This project uses food remains excavated from a historic privy at Michigan State University (MSU) to explore and recreate the food environment of the campus during its Early Period (1855-1870). Archaeological analysis and archival research were used together to investigate historic foodways on campus.

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May 2, 2017

Reflections on Earle Draper and the Making of Company Towns

May 2, 2017 | By | No Comments

In working on the website and uploading materials, it struck me that the houses primarily material authored by Earle Draper. Most of that was not by design but primarily due to the fact that most of the material easily accessible (both at the National Archives in Atlanta and the Rare Manuscripts Library at Cornell) is authored by Draper.  That having been said, it is striking the investment that Draper felt to the project. Draper embodied a particular kind of imagination. In reading essays by him, one is struck by this imagination. Norris was not just a planned town; it was experiment in peri-urban living. It also embodied the culmination of a process started by the TVA, a process that was, arguably, the raison d’etre of the TVA—electrification of rural homes. Electrification of the homes in Norris was an important aspect of the planning. It was seen as being distinctly ‘modern.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, design became a means to modernize rural areas and usher development. Company towns were more than just housing for workers, through Norris, they became a conduit for a particular vision of the world. Bear in mind, this is a moment, around the world when ‘development’ becomes a rallying call. As I think about the summer, I am looking forward to examining more material authored by Draper on Norris, to better understand what modernity meant to men like Draper.

Working towards making a functional website also raised some technological issues. For instance, I thought I had worked out how to display pdfs as well as short reflective essays about the primary source pdfs on the website. When I actually began writing those essays, I realized that I had actually not worked out the issue. It made me realize that displaying a textbox and an iframe side-by-side is difficult! I was able to work out a solution eventually, that involved putting them both in one container that was able to recognize their differences and still let them be. In hindsight, it is probably the easiest and most straightforward solution but it was one I was avoiding because it would mean changing back-end code everywhere. Eventually, that’s what I had to do and it turned out well. Lessons learned: think about using CSS so as to avoid having to change lines in the html code of each page and second, create fully functional dummy pages!

The second big/bug issue I had was with Mapbox. My original plan was to georectify a site plan of Norris and use that on the home page, to create an interactive interface. However, whilst trying to do that, I realized that I did not have the right site-plan. After week of searching, I found the right version, right here at the MSU library! Having secured the right site plan, I set about trying to make my home page. However, mapbox was unable to handle the georectified image. So I was unable to create a tileset and get on with things. I am still working on resolving the issue, but for now, I am embedding a GoogleMap I created. It isn’t the ideal solution, but well… Lesson learned: find your sources before time!

Now, back to tinkering with the website! It launches soon!

Nikki Silva


May 1, 2017

Directory of Oneota Scholars – Final Edits

May 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

In the next week, we will be launching our CHI projects that we have all been working on throughout the year. I defended my dissertation proposal last week so was not as focused on my CHI project, but I had some time to finally complete the addition of all scholars that research the Oneota to my website. As a directory, it was important to have a comprehensive list of scholars, though I may be missing a few scholars, I feel that the list is fairly comprehensive as it is now.

Once all the information on scholars was added to the website, there were still some small stylistic issues I had to deal with on the site, including aligning all lines of my paragraphs and adding the CHI logo to my footer area. Putting the image in the footer was simple, however, I seemed to have trouble with the alignment of my paragraphs. It turns out that it was a simple fix of changing the code from ‘text-indent’ to ‘margin-left’. That made all lines of paragraphs to be aligned together.

The only thing I have left to do for my project is to push the website from Github to its new URL on the MATRIX server. I will be posting my final launch post next week and look forward to showing you all the Directory of Oneota Scholars.



April 28, 2017

My MySQL table

April 28, 2017 | By | No Comments

Using WampServer, I produced an SQL database of information regarding the production and consumption of hydroelectricity in several towns in Uganda and Kenya from 1954-63. I chose this dataset because these years saw the largest increase in hydroelectric power in the history of East Africa. This dramatic hydroelectric expansion was comprised of several dams, but was based mainly on the completion of the Owen Falls Dam across the Victoria Nile in Jinja, Uganda – which remains the largest single source of hydroelectricity in the region. This set of development projects emerged during what became the final decade of British colonial rule in East Africa, and has had a profound influence on the economies, environments, politics, and science of the region in the postcolonial era. By producing a database that allows the user to track these changes across time and space, I have created a basis for researching the history of electricity in East Africa through quantitative means.

Extant scholarship, particularly work by the historians Robert O. Collins, Terje Tvedt, Heather Hoag, and Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, presents the contours of the political and technical debates about dam construction in East Africa. This historiography has yielded progressively more fine-grained analyses of the water politics of constructing dams on the Nile and elsewhere in East Africa, including especially interactions between governments and displaced communities. Yet, it has done little to contextualize or question the data that planners used to make decisions about the construction and operation of the dam, or the roles played by commercial and industrial elites in materializing demand for electricity. This database should offer a means to complement their research.

Erin Pevan


April 27, 2017

Creating your project’s identity: What’s in a name?

April 27, 2017 | By | No Comments

For my last CHI blog pre-project launch post for April, I want to include a short discussion of the thought process and decision making that goes into creating a title for a digital project. It has been the part of my project that I’ve been sitting on for the longest time, deliberating between different titles that would best capture the attention of a wider audience and reflect the overall premise of my project. In the end, I decided to go for both catchiness (at least, in my perspective) and connection to the overall basis of the project and the narrative of the website design, both of which are based upon my use of and exploration of Norwegian literature for national identity markers. Therefore, borrowing from the sometimes-wordy, yet descriptive and fun, titles of Norwegian folktales, I decided upon a title that reflects my personal quests for exploring Norwegian literature while also explaining (in a subtitle) the purpose of the project. Stay tuned for next week for the project launch and you’ll see what it is!

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April 22, 2017

Visualizing RDF triples in an engaging way

April 22, 2017 | By | No Comments

The application that has taken shape since the beginning of the CHI fellowship executes queries against the British Museum’s (BM) SPARQL endpoint. The BM system returns results serialized as XML- or JSON-LD. The application updates its data store (Redux) and renders the collection of results as a simple list. This is straightforward enough. On the other hand, I’ve had to think a bit more about how to render single query results in response to user selection of any given list item.

The basic data structure in semantic web technologies is the Resource Description Framework (RDF) triple. The triple is itself a graph, expressing a subject and an object’s relationship through a predicate. The Rosetta Stone, for instance, appears as a subject in ~180 statements. Given the centrality of the RDF triple in semantic web systems, it’s no surprise that a common way to represent the resource interrelationships expressed in these triples is by showing networks of nodes and edges; subjects and objects as nodes, predicates as the edges connecting them. This seems the most intuitive way to render single BM collection objects.

RDF and the Resource Description Framework Schema (RDFS) are fundamental to the semantic web technology stack as it’s developed in the past two decades. RDFS extends the constructs defined in the RDF specification to enable kinds of expressions like generalization. While RDF does allow for classification (instance-class relationships) with the instanceOf property, the RDFS extends the framework to allow for the expression of constructs like generalization hierarchies, where a class relates to another class as its sub- or superclass, with the subClassOf and subPropertyOf properties. For an RDFS model (e.g., each version of CIDOC-CRM), implementation in the Web Ontology Language (OWL – another important technology in the semantic web stack) adds formal logic to the model and thus enables automated reasoning with it.

I’m working on using these technologies to enrich what are otherwise pretty boring network visualizations. The project is a good example of visualizing data structured as RDF triples in a compelling way.

Jessica Yann


April 21, 2017

What makes an archaeological site significant?

April 21, 2017 | By | No Comments

The semester is winding down, and my project is beginning to take on its final form. I’ve been finalizing text, references, and glossary terms, and basically making sure the content is what I want prior to playing with the formatting. As I’ve been finishing with the text, I’ve made a few observations I think are worth sharing. Read More



April 12, 2017

Layers of Engagement

April 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

When working with communities, the design process for a website is purposefully ongoing. Some days I find myself doing more deleting than generating, and on others, I’m reenergized by the newer possibilities proposed by the community. Beyond the natural ebb and flow of any collaborative check-in, I’ve also been struck by the buildup of audience considerations over time. To make the site more accessible to an older Filipinx American community, I initially had to change content to a more approachable style than the academic. The overly-conceptual and technical prose was deleted, and I fell back on the ethnographic-type style of my field notes. It made good sense as I was engaging in the experience of their cultural center and its potential for communication to publics.

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