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CHI Fellowship Program

Erin Pevan

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May 12, 2017

Launch Post – Camping, Landlig, Mjølner, Saklig: A Project Exploring Norway’s National Identity

May 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

Greetings to all digital cultural heritage enthusiasts! Today I formally announce the launch of my 2017 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship project: Camping, Landlig, Mjølner, Saklig: A Project Exploring Norway’s National Identity.

Project title:
Camping, Landlig, Mjølner, Saklig: A Project Exploring Norway’s National Identity

Project URL:
http://clmsproject.matrix.msu.edu/

Project overview:
This project is my narrative of my explorations of expressions of Norwegian national identity. It is the culmination of my graduate coursework for my master’s thesis in sociocultural and linguistic anthropology, my experiences studying abroad in Oslo at the International Summer School, and my participation as a graduate fellow in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative at Michigan State University. It is my endeavor to explore answers to the question of “What does it mean to be Norwegian?” through the use of digital cultural heritage tools to explore new methodologies to answer this question. Read More

doyleras

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May 5, 2017

Launching the database

May 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

Before embarking on this project, Dr. Watrall said that making a database in SQL and taking online with PHP would involve too steep a learning curve to climb within the context of my participation in CHI this year. He was right. Ultimately, we decided that the most realistic goal would be to complete the database. The database provides a unique basis for thinking about the history of hydroelectricity in East Africa – namely, a quantitative basis – but unfortunately it is not yet freely available. Additionally, I can now use this SQL code as a template for expanding the database to include information about related environmental and economic phenomena in the Lake Victoria basin. I have not abandoned the hope for the database to be accessible online, but I think that the only time-efficient way for the database to get online is for me to collaborate with someone who is specifically trained to complete this kind of work.

 

Apart from the technical challenges associated with the project, there was conceptual work to be done as well in order to effectively digitize and integrate the array of sources that I used, i.e. data cleaning. Cleaning the data involved a few steps. First, I had to simplify most of the tables by dissembling them into discrete data points and reassembling them into multiple new tables. This step was necessary because the tabular data that British colonial technocrats sent to each other often consisted of complex, multifactorial tables that correlated various arrays of keys across time and space. I examined the individual data points that constituted these tables in order to distill a set of recurring keys. I used these keys as my bases for rebuilding the corpus into a database that would be amenable to computerized analysis.

The various keys map onto four axes of differentiation. The first axis compares different categories of users, with the most significant categories being “government,” “commercial,” and “railway.” It also distinguishes between the specific users that were active in the industrial towns that, in the late colonial period, began to dominate the northern end of Lake Victoria. The various entities included mines, factories, and housing complexes.

The second axis of comparison distinguishes between two different ways to use for electricity: power, measured in horsepower, and light, measured in kilowatts. Many electricity users deployed both forms, but many also restricted their use to one only. This axis also shows the database user that people used electricity to generate power for three specific types of use – namely, to run arc furnaces, to provide motive power, and to achieve steam raising.

The third axis provides a basis for differentiating between production and consumption, by reminding the database user that separate entities were responsible for each action and could only ever have partial knowledge of each other. The concept of “demand” is the key link included in this database between consumers and planners.

The fourth axis includes the terms that the hydroelectricity industry used to grapple with the difficulties of managing change over time in their development projects. Industry planners used several scales of temporal cycles in order to make these changes legible. These scales included variation within a year, which could be measured in terms of variables like “peak” and “average” use. Note that some keys force the database user to consider multiple axes of differentiation at the same time. Consider “estimated_demand,” which includes a relational element as well as a temporal element; this particular key offers to the database user a quantitative description of how people thought their relationships with each other would change over time.

Taken together, this set of keys that are shared across the corpus of statistical tables can give the database user multiple points of leverage over the social and technical contours of the hydroelectric industry and its variation across time and space. The user can produce quantitative representations of changing relationships in the consumption and production of hydroelectricity during the final years of colonial rule in East Africa.

doyleras

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May 5, 2017

Mapping?

May 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

In this post, I reflect on the possibility of building a spatial map of the information that is contained in the database. The initial challenge is to learn how to build such a map using HTML and Java. HILT and CHI introduced me to the basics of this work, but I would have to go further in order to make a useful map. This post considers a couple of the benefits and challenges that would come from doing so.

The main benefit is to increase the power of the database to let the user visualize and manipulate historic information for the purpose of understanding the world of hydroelectricity in late colonial East Africa. Mapping the flows of hydroelectricity that existed between the factories, mines, and plantations of this time period can give scholars a new window onto the economic and environmental relationships that structured people’s lives.

The main conceptual challenge is how to represent change over time across space through the use of a digital platform. Most network analysis and mapping tools are not geared towards presenting change over time, and those that do face limitations. One limitation is the fact that “time” does not exist uniformly, but requires representation in multiple simultaneous registers. A potential solution to this practical obstacle to the creation of a database that represents change over time is to overlay different cycles of time in the production and consumption of hydroelectricity. Relevant cycles include daily, seasonal, and annual patterns of use.

There is also the practical challenge of mapping historic data that, in some instances, lacks clear geographic coordinates. Overcoming this obstacle, I suspect, must require archival and field research to triangulate past geographies, and is not amenable to digital solutions.

doyleras

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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.

mahnkes1

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May 5, 2017

Launch of Immigrant Imprints!

May 5, 2017 | By | One Comment

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.

swayampr

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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!

doyleras

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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

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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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Jessica Yann

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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

swayampr

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April 11, 2017

Challenging times…

April 11, 2017 | By | No Comments

As my website is coming together, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the things came to be. When I first thought of working on Norris, I had grandiose plans about how the website would come together. Beginning to work on the website however, quickly brought these plans down to Earth. One of the first stumbling blocks was thinking of the home page. Originally, I had planned on georeferencing the plan of Norris in order to create a layered effect and a constant comparison between plan and reality as well as past and present. However, when I began georeferencing, I realized that that site plan that I had digitized, was, first, not the final one and second, that parts of the original plan were not built, which made said georeferencing challenging at best, and borderline impossible at worst. So, while I went back to the drawing board (so to speak) in trying to find an updated site plan for the town of Norris, I began piecing together other parts of the website.

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