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CHI Fellowship Program

dglovsky

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April 17, 2019

Making my Dissertation Digital

April 17, 2019 | By | No Comments

Have you ever tried to explain your dissertation to your family? Your students? Strangers or acquaintances you barely know? This is a trying task. My dissertation focuses on mobility and migration between four different West African countries (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea), looking at the multitude of reasons people moved and the larger meaning of all of this movement. One of the biggest challenges I face in explaining all of this is the diversity of perspectives from the people with whom I spoke. Oftentimes reasons vary, perspectives vary, and the individual voices can get lost in 350 pages of historical arguments and narrative.

My research is based on unnecessarily large amounts of archival research, plus 220 interviews I conducted in rural parts of Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. The documents often tell similar stories, of governments seeking (and generally failing) to control borders and movement, although their attitude towards these movements depends on the period and perceived need for economic migrants and/or security concerns. But what about the voices of the individual migrants themselves? These are rarely seen in documents, and thus must be brought out through interviews.

Each person’s story differs. Many from Guinea-Bissau and Guinea served as seasonal migrant farmers. Many of these farmers had good experiences, using their time in Senegal and Gambia to earn money they could use to buy goods unavailable at home, pay colonial taxes, and save up money to build their own homes and start a family. Some of these farmers went year after year, spending over a decade traveling to another colony/country for months at a time planting and harvesting peanuts. In many cases, these farmers became integrated into their host communities and set down roots. Others went once and decided to never go again. I also interviewed many people who fled violence and economic depression in search of a better life. Others simply crossed borders looking for better farm and pastureland.

When I decided to apply for the CHI Fellowship, I wanted a place where these voices could speak for themselves. My dissertation does not feature long excerpts from interviews because it’s already 350 pages long without them. While the voices of my interlocutors are throughout my dissertation, I am not able to capture the full extent of what they said. I want their voices to be available to the public, as a tool for public memory, for scholarship, and for teaching.

This has not always been the easiest process, but as I come to the last few weeks, I am grateful for the opportunity. It has reminded me whose stories center my research. Too often it is easy to forget that history is not just a series of newsworthy events and processes, but the combination of many people whose collective actions form a rich and cacophonous story.

dglovsky

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March 29, 2019

The Challenge of Language

March 29, 2019 | By | No Comments

When I decided to use my CHI Fellowship to chronicle and disseminate the stories of individual migrants, my greatest question was the problem of language. My wider research focuses on the experience of migrants and the wider significance of migrants in southern Senegambia, but through a combination of oral history interviews, archival sources, and published sources. The oral history interviews in large part structure my project, but ultimately the analysis and larger conclusions are my own.

Focusing on the stories of individual migrants is an incredible opportunity but features questions of translation. How to best represent interviews done in a mish-mash of languages. Most of my interviews (and all of the ones highlighted in my CHI project) center around the West African language Pulaar (also known as Fulfulde in the eastern part of West Africa). However, many of my interviews feature words and phrases in French, Portuguese, and English as well.

What is the best way to represent the words of my interviewers? A direct transcription of their words would allow those in southern Senegambia to read and analyze these interviews, but Pulaar is (for most of its speakers) not a written language. Traditionally, Pulaar was written in ajami (Arabic script), but very few today learn to write Pulaar using Arabic characters. Today, Pulaar is primarily written using the Latin/Roman alphabet. However, there is no standardized spelling in Pulaar, and words appear radically different in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea, due to the legacy of European colonialism. The word for thank you is spelled jarama (Gambia), diorama (Senegal/Guinea), and djaarama (Guinea-Bissau). Even names are spelled different. One common Pulaar last name is spelled Diallo (Senegal/Guinea), Jallow (Gambia), or Djaló (Guinea-Bissau). Additionally, there are many dialects of Pulaar in West Africa, and I did interviews with speakers of at least three different dialects.

If one is to translate these interviews, there is of course the issue of access. The official language of Senegal and Guinea is French, in Gambia it is English, and in Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese. I am very comfortable translating Pulaar to English (which I do often in my dissertation, somewhat comfortable with French (which I did often as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal), and not particularly comfortable translating Pulaar to Portuguese (which I have little experience with). In the rural areas of West Africa where I conducted my research, the penetration of official languages is often limited, with obviously greater access by those who have studied in government-run schools. Most of those I interviewed did not attend such schools, although some of them still speak English, French, or Portuguese well. For the first phase of this project, I am translating the segments of these interviews into English, since I am an academic based in the U.S. and plan on using these stories in my own teaching. However, I would like to eventually make them available in other languages, particularly Pulaar, French, and Portuguese. This will take more time, and will not take place during the period of the CHI Fellowship, but I believe it is an important step in democratizing digital knowledge, which typically neglects the importance of African languages in favor of European languages.

plemonsa

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March 20, 2019

Hitting the Proverbial Wall

March 20, 2019 | By | No Comments

            I think there is a point in time that every novice reaches in technical projects when they wonder..will I actually successfully complete this project? This is my current mental state in my CHI project. I am swimming in a sea of technical questions in relation to the map demonstration of macromorphoscopic trait data. My lack of experience using Mapbox has become very apparent and my ideas of how I would visualize my data and present this concept to my audience are ever-changing.

            Initially, my intention was to generate a single heat map that could filter through a series of macromorphoscopic traits and their various trait expressions to depict scores densities across space. Several realizations occurred that have changed how I will have to present these data. First, I realized that due to the nature of my data, I will not be able to create a heat map in a way that is meaningful. The geographic location information per individual is generalized to the country in which the individual resided rather than specific coordinate information. This means that a choropleth map will be more appropriate for presenting trait score distributions. In order to create the choropleth map, I need to be able to cross-reference country codes between the map and the macromorphoscopic trait data. The map will need to have countries previously coded and defined so that country names will be recognizable in the datasheet in order to be properly linked.

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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.

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.

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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TaylorPanczak

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November 6, 2018

Digitizing the History of Archaeology: Ethical responsibilities

November 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

Recently I have had the opportunity to scan over 1000 slides of excavations that occurred along the southern coast of Peru throughout the 90’s and early 00’s. While the task itself was mundane and took many more hours than I was expecting, the images that I discovered through this digitization process were absolutely breathtaking. I was witnessing the slow evolution of one of South America’s oldest archaeological sites in terms of excavation and landscape modification. Not every slide itself is valuable but together every slide represents a small portion of a story that was largely only known to the excavators until now. This slide scanning process made me think of the history of archaeology and how the later generations of archaeologists have an ethical responsibility to digitize the old records so they are more freely available. This includes old site forms, journal entries from the PI or the excavators, any pictures of the excavations or tools, and any other documents that could be useful for future archaeologists. Digitizing these documents can also be used as outreach for the public in which archaeologists of the past had worked. This can help to further include communities in the process of archaeological investigation and possibly garner interest from outside the field.

With the discipline becoming more mature and getting older by the year, the history of archaeology is becoming much deeper and is starting to reach a point where some of that history can be lost if it is not moved into a new format. It is no surprise that as technology advances thing become obsolete and eventually become nontransferable onto the newer formats. I fear that if we do not start digitizing old archaeological records soon, we will not be able to transfer them onto a format that is widely and equally available to everyone. Digital records are much easier to gain access to than physical paper copies for obvious reasons but the overall control of information is vastly different between the two mediums. If information is purely stored in a physical format, the paper copies can be easily forgotten through purposeful or unintentional endeavors where as digital information can be sought out on the internet and stumbled upon. My point here is that it is our ethical responsibility as archaeologists to make what we do as widely available as possible to the public and future archaeologists. It is also our responsibility to maintain our own history otherwise we may lose precious information in the miasma of archaeological research. The large and publicly known sites may persist in public and written memory but the supporting sites that build and perpetuate theory have the potential to be lost unless we make a concerted effort to conserve all archaeological data.

 

 

john5110

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November 2, 2018

Who Writes Our Stories?: Critical Digital Literacies & Youth Activism

November 2, 2018 | By | No Comments

My research interests are transdisciplinary and primarily focus on race, storytelling, and s/place. Working alongside communities of Color, I also consider education and schooling sites to make meaning. There is a lot of amazing work being done that considers Black Studies and digital scholarship, and so below I focus primarily on digital tools in education.

There is conversation concerning “the digital world” in education. Much concerns social media in the classroom or tools such as SMART boards and Google Drive. Even then, terms such as “digital natives”, which I find extremely problematic, evoke a lack of agency because despite youth (broadly with little context) being categorized as knowledge-holders in digital spaces, they’re still spoken of in deficit ways.

Critical conversations around digital tools and technology look not only at how it’s being used, but how technology is used as a tool of power and by whom. Critical theorists also push us to go beyond a surface level integration of digital tools in classrooms and look at digital space and it’s relationship with out s/places, such as schools (Gitlin & Ingerski, 2018). Garcia, Stamatis, and Kelly (2018) consider the ways that “technology mediates student identities” (p. 404) and others (Garcia, Mirra, Morrell,  Martinez, & Scorza, 2015; Mirra, Morrell, & Filipiak, 2018) look more broadly at youth identities, the possibilities in critical digital literacies and youth activism.

I first came to meaningfully think about the possibilities of digital tools, youth, and communities when I came across Youth Radio’s website. I was in a course about Youth Literacies and simultaneously working with youth to understand their literacy practices through Instagram and Snapchat.

“West Side Stories: Gentrification in West Oakland” (Youth Radio Interactive) uses storytelling, art, and interactive mapping to speak to the tensions, layers, and competing interests of gentrification and displacement in West Oakland. Specifically, the mapping features West Oakland’s people, places, and histories.

Not only does this involve transformative work, but it’s work that is authored by whole communities, and features youth participatory action research (YPAR). It challenges preconceptions of who can research the tensions and possibilities of a community and whose voices matter. It offers public access to community members, but also to others so that we may learn.

It pushes me to think of the ways I can work alongside members of my communities to render our cultural artifacts, literacy practices, and the s/places we care about as intentional narratives that reject damage-centeredness (Tuck, 2009).

franc230

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October 25, 2018

Mapping Marvell and Indigenous Mapping

October 25, 2018 | By | No Comments

Expectations

At the beginning of this journey in CHI, I had no idea how we were going to go about learning to do culture digitally. Learning some Java, building a website and watching The Matrix seemed like some likely things. But learning how to create maps for your web pages using mapbox and leaflet had not come to mind as our first significant project. As an archaeologist, I probably should have realized that mapping would a vital part of representing cultural heritage digitally. Locating the culture of interest both spatially and temporally is a big step to saying anything meaningful.

Mapping Marvel

My group’s project will map significant locations in the Marvel comic and cinematic universe that are located in New York City. We all like Marvel, and we thought New York would give us the best selection of locations to map. So far, any significant location in the Marvel universe is fair game, but there is concern about what sort of narrative we’ll be mapping out. Do we want to talk about the origins of Heroes and Villains, major battle locations, or some other important aspect of Marvel? Further, how do we choose which locations represent this narrative? We can’t possibly talk about every character in the Marvel universe, so decisions have to be made about who to leave out. This process of deciding what is most important for us to map got me thinking about how I can use mapping in my future research as a Native American Archaeologist.

Indigenous Mapping

Determining what goes on the map is an act of power dependent on the cartographer’s own agenda and biases. Chapin et al. (2005) reminds us that the boundaries of nations are not natural features of the landscape; they are human constructs that often use mapping as a weapon to claim valuable land and resources. For instance, colonists in Canada made land claims during the late 19th century because they believed the natives were not “using” the land properly; i.e. not practicing agriculture. Indigenous mapping attempts to flip the script and make claims of their own with the use of maps.

The first instances of indigenous mapping were conducted in Canada and Alaska in the 1950s. It eventually spread out from there, and by the 1990s, Indigenous peoples from around the world were starting to use maps to their benefit. Their uses of cartography support their claims and defenses of ancestral lands and resources while also strengthening Indigenous political organization, economic planning and natural resource management. It also allows indigenous people to document their history and culture for the purposes of salvaging and reinforcing cultural identity (Chapin et al. 2005). These benefits are not to imply that Indigenous maps are better or more authentic. Rather, I believe it demonstrates that maps are not infallible pieces of information. Every mapmaker has their own agenda. Perhaps the best way to counteract this is to include as many perspectives as possible. Consequently, it is probably a good thing that our Marvel Map is a group project.

Robinson et al. (2016) describes this process of including others in what’s called participatory mapping. By including indigenous people as significant participants, researchers open up a dialogue and create maps that acknowledged Indigenous rights knowledge. In this process, Indigenous members work together to help decide which information is or is not relevant or reliable for mapping the places and environments important to them. The end result is ideally a map and relationship that’s both useful to indigenous and non-indigenous people. Of course, things don’t always go as planned, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Conclusion

This barely touches the surface of Indigenous mapping and especially mapping in general,  but it does bring attention to the fact that our maps have power and consequences. Maps should be negotiated with these thoughts in mind. So, maybe before my group goes and makes a definitive map of the marvel characters, we should go ask some of its characters what they believe to be the most important part of their stories. More realistically, a Map of Marvel in New York would include feedback from creators or people that have dedicated themselves to that universe. Unfortunately, it may unfeasible to do this when the project is due in a couple days. Mapping is hard.

 

Sources

Chapin, Mac, Zachary Lamb, and Bill Threlkeld (2005) Mapping Indigenous Lands. The annual Review of Anthropology 34:619-638

Robinson, Catherine J., Kirsten Maclean, Ro Hill, Ellie Bock and Phil Rist (2016) Participatory mapping to negotiate indigenous knowledge used to assess environmental risk. Sustain Sci 11: 115-126