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January 26, 2019

Public Engagement

January 26, 2019 | By | No Comments

In my most recent blog post, I discussed the importance of public engagement by researchers in academia, focusing on the role of biological anthropologists and their unique ability to contribute to the conversation on social race and ancestry. I mentioned how this concern led me to broaden the target audience of my CHI fellowship project from biological anthropologists and related professionals to middle and high school students and introductory college courses. However, because I am not trained or conditioned to reach outside of my disciplinary bubble, one of my goals this semester is to learn how to successfully engage with and educate the public through my project (brief project description available in my last blog post). I started asking myself questions to decide how to best promote my project and ensure that people will actually use the website.

Some questions I am concerned with are:

  1. What variables are used to measure success of public engagement?
  2. When is a public engagement project considered successful?
  3. What mediums are commonly used to reach the largest number of people?
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January 25, 2019

projects of recovery

January 25, 2019 | By | No Comments

When we returned in January, I realized that I am still quite unsure of what I want for this project. I still don’t know. While working on my wireframe and project vision, I found myself a bit lost which led to me asking myself about the purpose, the goals, the audience all over again. Moreover, what I am hoping to learn? I continually come back to recovering.

Kim Gallon (2016) argues that there is a “‘technology of recovery’ that undergirds black digital scholarship”. She writes, “…any connection between humanity and the digital therefore requires an investigation into how computational processes might reinforce the notion of a humanity developed out of racializng systems, even as they foster efforts to assemble or otherwise built alternative human modalities”.

In Gallon’s discussion of the recovery project that is the black digital humanities, I am prompted to think about the following as I begin collecting data. First, I need to truly contend with not only what am I trying to recover, but why and how. In looking to how digital projects can play a role in the project of black people’s humanity, I want to learn more about how my own project will do that work and how it may be complicit in taking up actions antithetical to my overall goal. This is why I listed some of my project goals moving forward. I want to be held accountable—and if the internet is good for anything, it is reminding you of something you said months or years ago.

My goals moving forward are:

  1. Engage and Learn. Read more pieces about the Digital Humanities in Black Studies. This means treating this work as a important as the material components of my project. It is a pledge and a commitment to undertake; however, I would rather minimize the scope of my project rather than have it be divorced of conversations that are happening next door. In order to make this feasible, I hope to read at least 2 pieces about the intersections of Black Studies and the Digital Humanities each week as I move forward. These pieces may or may not be published in peer-reviewed texts. The goal is not to be in conversation solely with texts only accessible through institution granted journal access, but to see what connections are being made among and across s/places. For instance, if the project is also about recovery, then I need to be reading from all archives no matter their elite status. To me, this is a part of CHI’s commitment to public access. It’s not just creating something for the public (however one may define) but to also respond to the creations of others.
  2. Question and Integrate. With the 2 think pieces, I will annotate my own project’s wire frame and and project vision to ensure that I am questioning and integrating what I learn. What I appreciate so much about the new wireframe programs I am finding is how flexible and malleable they are for a newcomer such as myself. Many that I am coming across allow me to make comments, revisions, and drafts which will undoubtedly come in handy.
  3. Justify Content. My third goal is related to my first and second in that I want to have a justification for all of my content. In drafting versions of my wire frame and project vision, I find that I’m getting to know my website and what I want—but that I don’t exactly know what I want or why. It’s helpful to see what it can look like and what can be feasible; however, I know that in order to tell a solid narrative I will need to be more intentional about the elements I am including. For instance, how can the addition or placement of particular stills alter my narrative? Will those additions and placements create tension within my story?

In my future posts, I hope that I can bring some of what I learn and updates on my goals while also sharing the challenges and possibilities I encounter.


Gallon, K. (2016). Making a case for the Black Digital Humanities. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.



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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January 20, 2019

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

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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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January 14, 2019

Reflections on a past field season

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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.



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 ( 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.



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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December 7, 2018


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?


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



December 7, 2018

Teaching Early African History/Studies with a Digital Lens

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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.



December 6, 2018

Rethinking Quantification in African History

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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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