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CHI Fellowship Program

Jack Biggs


December 11, 2017

Digital Narratives of The Disappeared

December 11, 2017 | By | No Comments

Since I’m a returning CHI Fellow for this school year, I wanted to do something quite different compared to my project from last school year. That previous project is called J-Skel and it is an online juvenile skeletal age estimator. That project focused more on the scientific side of things and was intended to be useful in an instruction or classroom setting or to be used as a reference for those who are estimating the age-at-death of juvenile skeletons. Although this is a useful tool for those in the field of human osteology, it is not as applicable to people in everyday life. For this year’s project, I wanted to tackle something both technically and culturally disparate, but first, a quick backstory to explain the impetus behind this new project.

As a bioarchaeologist studying the ancient Maya at MSU, my advisor (Dr. Gabriel Wrobel) runs an ancient Maya Archaeology and Bioarchaeology Fieldschool every year called the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (or CBAS) in Central Belize, about 20 km south of the capital city of Belmopan. As a graduate student, I supervise excavations at the rockshelter sites we dig, as well as give lectures to the students and to the general public if they wish to attend. This year, I lectured over the final segment of Maya prehistory through the Colonial Period and ended with the Guatemalan Civil War that resulted in the genocide of Modern Maya people and the destruction of villages during the late 1970s and early 80s that resulted in the systematic targeting and death of over 200,000 indigenous Maya. As I gave this lecture, none of the students had ever heard of the Guatemalan genocide – also known as the Silent Holocaust. I found this to be somewhat of a disservice that none of them had ever been told about these events. It is because of this that I decided to do my project over the Silent Holocaust.

I want this year’s project to be targeting a much wider audience than my last project and to also take on a cultural and civic justice direction. The Guatemalan Army systematically targeted and eliminated poor indigenous communities in the Guatemalan Highlands, where most of the Modern Maya reside today. Because these peoples mostly speak their own regional variations of Mayan languages and because they have been without a voice since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, this ethnic cleansing has received far less attention than many others. Families were separated and murdered and entire villages were wiped off the map. It is because of this that I want to inform, or further inform, people about these atrocities that should not be silenced.

Victims and members of the ‘Disappeared’ from the Guatemalan Civil War, Image source:

In order to make this a project with more of a cultural impact, I plan on creating an interactive map that will allow users to track different journeys concerning the genocide, such as personal journeys or testimonies about fleeing and/or surviving, villages that were attacked, villages that were completely razed, events of social outcry in the major cities, modern-day efforts to commemorate and remember, etc. Although this is not an as well known series of events as other genocides such, as the Holocaust or the Massacre at Srebrenica, it has been heavily researched and there are data out there. I plan on using resources that are publicly available to craft and guide my website so as to be as effective and accurate as possible.

Theoretically, this will not be as technically challenging as my last project (knock on wood) since at that time, I had little knowledge of how to code and interact with different coding languages. Though I’m still not an expert in any sense of the word on coding, I think this will be easier due to my gained knowledge from last year – a pleasantly challenging experience. However, I plan on using at least three new (for me) and different tools this year: Knight Lab StoryMap and Timeline as well as possibly Frappe in order to tell these narratives and help visualize the data. Part of this project isn’t just to inform the general public about events that should not be forgotten, but also to inform me as I will be adding in content as I discover it and I’m excited to go on that journey.

Jack Biggs


December 8, 2017

Open data and 3D Printing

December 8, 2017 | By | No Comments

I’m a Teaching Assistant for an Intro to Physical Anthropology course and during their last week of classes before the final, we have a lab activity set up for them where we bring in fossil hominin casts and ask them to look at the variation between them, their similarities, why they may or may not be directly within our evolutionary lines, etc.  We do this by setting up stations around the lecture hall.  As I was watching the students pick up the casts and comment on their weird appearances compared to a modern human skull, how their teeth are different, how their face shape is so unlike us, I realized that I have completely taken experiences like this for granted.  Not all colleges or institutions have the funds to purchase these skull casts.  They are surprisingly expensive (at least compared to what grad students are paid!) and I have placed some of them on my Christmas list because I cannot afford them, unfortunately to no avail.

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Cody M


December 6, 2017

HASTAC 2017, Twine, and Empowering Student Voices

December 6, 2017 | By | No Comments

The HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) 2017 conference is already starting to feel like a distant memory, but as always it was a fantastic opportunity to meet with many brilliant scholars, teachers, and activists who are committed to transforming pedagogy to meet the challenges of today’s digital world. If you weren’t able to attend, definitely take some time to look over the program: there were many fantastic panels and workshops, such as “Building a Feminist Future” (Savonick, Meade, Bosch, Sperrazza, Esten, Tran, & Woods), “Multi Lobes, Multi Modes: Fostering Student Engagement and Learning Through Multimodality” (Garrett Colón, MSU), and “The Half-Real Humanities: Hard Problems in Humanities Games” (Dewinter, Dombrowski, Fanfarelli, & Mcdaniel).

My own panel with Dan Cox, Kristopher Purzycki, and Howard Fooksman was titled “[[Enter Twine’d]]: Linking Teaching and Learning through Hypertext,” and focused on using Twine, a platform for authoring interactive fiction and games, in the classroom. When I first started using Twine in my courses, I had two goals: first, I thought Twine could be a great way to introduce students to game design and development, and second, I thought Twine could help teach narrative concepts and theories by showing them in action. To test these possibilities, I built Twine into “Games as Art, Narrative, and Culture,” my course at MSU that is part of the Integrative Studies in Arts and Humanities general education requirements for undergraduates.

As part of the course, I had students build their own Twine games as one of their major projects. I introduced students to Twine by having them play Twine games such as anna anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World, Zoë Quinn’s Depression Quest, and Squinky’s Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames! In addition to playing the games, we discussed Twine’s capabilities and how each game uses different mechanics to capture a different experience. Next students came up with their own game ideas, designing each idea around a particular experience they wanted to create for players. Finally, students put their ideas into action, and created basic games that used special effects and meaningful choices to deliver on their vision.

Beyond student projects, I also created Narrare (“to narrate” in Latin), a Twine game meant to teach narrative theory in games. The game draws attention to concepts such as branching narrative, limited choices, character types and roles, and narrative voice. The game is still an ongoing project, but the current version is available on my website/portfolio at

While I expected Twine would be helpful for meeting course objectives, I was surprised by how much students were excited and engaged by it. At first many students, particularly those with no coding experience or interest, found making their own game intimidating. However once they got into the design process, many of them reported becoming so immersed in their projects that they had to set limits for themselves to remember to work on other coursework.

I suspect that this happened because making Twine games gave my students the opportunity to engage in a type of creative authoring that they unfortunately don’t often get to do in higher education. It allowed students to use their own experiences, perspectives, and voices to make something that was truly their own, and then to share that with their classmates. My students used this opportunity to tell their stories, especially those that they don’t often get to tell. For example, one student created a Twine game that captured the experience of culture shock that came with studying in the United States as an international student. Another told a story of a childhood event that has always stuck with them as a strange and meaningful experience, but that they hadn’t ever shared or represented before.

What excites me so much about this is that Twine can do even more than teach introductory game design or narrative concepts and theories. It can provide a platform for telling stories that don’t get told, and for helping our students develop their own voices. Along the way they have to confront their own experiences, perspectives, and positions, and then think about how to share these things in meaningful ways. My hope is that this process will help students realize that their voices matter, and that they can use them in whatever education or career they pursue. Playing and designing with Twine reveals how the meaning we make with games reaches far beyond the ludic realm. I look forward to using these insights in my course design, and continuing to find better ways to support my students’ learning processes.

Some valuable Twine resources for interested persons:

Twine 2.0
Twine Tutorial videos by Dan Cox
“Games in the Classroom with The Twine Cookbook” by Anastasia Salter

Twine resources

Jack Biggs


October 18, 2017

The Future of the Past

October 18, 2017 | By | One Comment

Archaeologists and anthropologist back in the day (say around the later Victorian era and the early 20th century) had it easy in terms of research and methodologies.  Study subjects and specimens were abundant while strict and standardized methodologies were not.  Researchers just went out and both literally and physically grabbed data. They weren’t data necessarily that they needed, but data they wanted.  Many times, collection techniques were…less than completely ethical, but as has been the long trend in human history, we learn from our mistakes.

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October 18, 2017

Introducing Elise Dixon (CHI Fellow)

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Elise Dixon and I am a third-year PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures program. I am very excited to be a part of the 2017-2018 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship– it fits very well with my research interests. My research focuses on queer and feminist multimodal composing through a cultural rhetorics lens. In most of my work, I employ feminist, queer and cultural rhetorics orientations to think about the ways queer people, military wives, and writing centers “compose” themselves through writing and creating. These may seem to be disparate interests, and in some aspects, they are. However, in all of my research work, I am focusing in on how people and organizations express their identities through various composing practices.  Because of these interests, the CHI fellowship is a perfect fit.

I am working through my comprehensive exams currently and I have been ruminating quite a bit on what I plan for my dissertation. I was originally planning to make my CHI fellowship project my first foray into my diss. In my comprehensive exams, I am focusing on how multimodal composing can support queer and feminist rhetorics. What I am bumping up against is that the voices most amplified in queer and feminist rhetorics are often white voices. This does not mean that people of color aren’t doing queer and feminist multimodal composing; it means that the modes of composing discussed by scholars of color are undervalued by these disciplines that have been shaped by many multiple white people. I am trying to find ways to address this in my work, and hopefully I can integrate that into my CHI fellowship project.


My original plan for my CHI fellowship project was to examine some pieces of ephemera and zines from the MSU Queer Archive and Zine Archive and create a small digital archive of my own of them. I still intend to do this, but now I intend to be careful to look at the creation of these objects from a cultural rhetorics lens and foregrounding the work of people of color.  I look forward to exploring this project more through this CHI project. I think it will help me develop some direction for my dissertation and give me time to practice and learn how to code and make digital projects from scratch.


I’m so grateful to have this fellowship this year. Working alongside the other fellows is a highlight of my week, and I am looking forward to working hard on this project throughout the year.

Julia DeCook


October 12, 2017

Cat memes and Identity – Archives and Digital Worlds

October 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

The reason why I wanted to do this fellowship was not only to expand my knowledge of computational/digital methods of approaching cultural heritage questions but also to have this methodological knowledge situated in appropriate theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Particularly, something I have noticed often in data-driven approaches to research within my own discipline is the lack of positioning – what does this data mean? How did it come to be, and what does it signify for larger historical, cultural, and social realms?

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Nicole Raslich


October 9, 2017

Digitizing our Cultural Heritage

October 9, 2017 | By | No Comments

My own recent ethnohistoric research for family genealogy made me think about ChiMatrix and the need to digitize old documents public documents. Anyone who has ever used county libers will agree but for those of you who have not, let me explain. Prior to the 1960’s, all births, deaths and marriages were recorded by hand, in large ledger type books called libers. These books are huge, leather bound tomes, inscribed by hand. They go back to various decades, the ones in Saginaw County Michigan, for example, go back to the 1830’s with a small, three ring binder of marriages going back to 1825. As these tomes are hand-written, the penmanship varies as does the legibility of said documents.

Using these documents can be problematic for several reasons. One, they are “protected public documents” according to the County Clerk, so they cannot be photographed. Photographing or scanning with a handheld scanner would allow them to be digitized and put into a database. Two, when you require a certified copy, a county employee must come over and handwrite the information they see, then type that up into a legal, embossed certificate. This is problematic as the penmanship is open to interpretation. There were several times when at least three workers would confer about a letter or word written and then come to a consensus. Being unfamiliar with Ojibwa names, they would take most often, not take advice on spelling, trying to decipher it on their own. Three, they are only available during the hours of the office. The office opens at 9 a.m. and documents are done being printed by 4:45 p.m. Four, they are extremely fragile and heavy, (not a good combination) stored on shelves with rollers. The leather bindings break down after several decades and the tomes are now taped together, with labels taped on the outside. Several of them had the pages inside laminated, which was nice since they are handled by the public. Sometimes, due to the weight, the books are dropped and damaged upon being removed from the shelving units.

These books hold a wealth of information and are invaluable references for any person doing historical research. As such, they need to be preserved and cared for in a more user-friendly way. Scanning would allow them to be run through handwriting analysis software and may take some of the user error out of the current transcription process. Here is an example: I was searching for a death record of an individual and found the written line in the liber. I then called the office workers over to make the certified copy. None of us could read the “cause of death” in entirety. We all agreed it said ‘_____ over by ___s.’ The death occurred in 1878. The first word appeared to start with an ‘R’ so everyone came to the consensus that it must read “run over by cars.” This is what was typed into the official record of death, as the official cause of death. Something didn’t seem right about this to me so I considered the history of automobiles since I’m from Flint and Michigan is the birthplace of the American auto industry. The first American gasoline engine was developed in 1895, and the first sale of an American gasoline car was in 1896, although there were those that ran on steam, they were few and far between . Cars in 1900 were a rarity, especially in a rural area such as Saginaw County, making this cause of death unlikely as it was multiple cars. The workers from the office did not want to change anything as they could not make out any other words and nothing else seemed logical, even though historically, this is highly unlikely.

The digitization of these tomes would enhance their usability and make the information more accessible to people who may not have the resources to travel to each county when searching for this information. It would also help people with vision and mobility problems use these documents. I am aware of the lack of funding our county records offices receive and of the thousands of work hours it takes to digitize documents. In no way am I implying a lack of effort on the staff of the County Clerk offices. The people in the Saginaw County Clerk’s office were wonderful, helpful, and friendly. The County Clerk himself even came out to answer several of my questions. I believe by digitally preserving records such as this, we can preserve and increase the access to our cultural heritage for generations to come.

Cody M


October 3, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Cody Mejeur

October 3, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Cody Mejeur, and I’m extremely excited to be joining the CHI Fellows program for 2017-18. I’m a PhD student in the Department of English at MSU working at the intersection of many related areas: new media, narrative theory, game studies, cognitive humanities, queer studies, and digital humanities. That sounds like a lot (because it is!), but I focus my work on video game narrative. Specifically, I am interested in how games are changing our understanding of narrative, and my dissertation, titled Playing/Queering Narrative: Narrative Experiences and Interfaces in Video Games, develops a narrative theory built from the ground up on the interrelationship of narrative and play in games.

Game studies and gaming culture have grown exponentially in the past 20 years, but they have also developed a number of blindspots that have left some peoples marginalized or excluded. In gaming culture this is most evident in the debates surrounding representation and social justice that came to a head in the #GamerGate movement, which saw large groups of gamers working to harass and silence women, people of color, and LGBTQ folk. Game studies has seen similar issues, such as the infamous narratology/ludology debates, wherein some theorists argued that narrative theory and literary studies were threatening to colonize or take over game studies. My dissertation argues that these attempts to secure the borders of games and game studies are related: they both stem from a desire to defend the culture and study of games from perceived threats, whether they be literary theorists or marginalized peoples seeking to politicize games.

Rather than attempt to undo these tensions—that toothpaste is decidedly out of the tube—my dissertation seeks to move forward by constructing a narrative theory specific to games. Beyond looking at characters, cutscenes, and plots, I argue that the experience of play (running, fighting, scoring, etc.) is an essential part of game narrative. Play experiences are variable and extremely dependent on the player’s situation and context, and I turn to queer/feminist and cognitive narratologies to explain how they become narratives that construct our sense of (virtual) reality. This narrative process is inherently playful, and can potentially lead to emergent, transformative, and queer possibilities for individual and collective world-building.

As a CHI fellow, I’ll be working on the LGBTQ Video Game Archive (, founded by Adrienne Shaw. The archive seeks to catalogue and preserve all instances of LGBTQ representation throughout video game history. This project is especially necessary given the ephemeral nature of its source materials. Many of the sources detailing LGBTQrepresentations are blogs, wikis, and smaller websites devoted to queer gaming communities, and there is a constant danger of them going offline with little or no notice if their owners or authors can no longer maintain them. My project will involve saving copies of all websites and media objects that the archive references, and organizing them into an Omeka repository that will be stored at the Strong National Museum of Play. By preserving these resources, we can ensure that the cultural heritage of LGBTQ representation in games is publicly available to future gaymers and scholars.

I look forward to working alongside the other CHI Fellows on innovative approaches to Cultural Heritage Informatics, and to acquiring new skills with coding and digital tools and methodologies. Can’t wait to see what lies ahead!



September 29, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Daniel Fandino

September 29, 2017 | By | No Comments

Greetings traveler on the great ocean of knowledge that is the internet! My name is Daniel Fandino and I am a first year PhD student in the Department of History at Michigan State University and a 2017 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow. My research is centered on the study of modern Japan with a focus on U.S. – Japanese relations and the intersection of popular culture, technology, and nationalism. Before arriving at Michigan State I earned my Master’s degree in History from the University of Central Florida and then spent the next few years living in Shanghai, Taipei, and Tokyo. Although my academic pursuits primarily revolve around Japanese history I have been able to explore other areas of personal interest such as fandom and video games by assisting in editing a collected volume of essays on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, contributing to an encyclopedia of Japanese horror films, and writing about dark tourism in the massively multiplayer game EVE Online.

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Jack Biggs


September 27, 2017

(Re)Introducing CHI Fellow Jack Biggs

September 27, 2017 | By | No Comments

Greetings everyone!  My name is Jack Biggs and if my name sounds familiar, that is because I was a CHI Fellow during the last academic year and was fortunate enough the be a returning Fellow for this year.  I am now a 4th year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology here at Michigan State University focusing on bioarchaeology of the ancient Maya.  Although my research interests haven’t changed all that much since my first intro post last fall, I’ll go ahead and re-hash what Ispecifically study and some additions and changes since that last initial post.

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