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CHI Grad Fellow Post



April 14, 2016

BARDSS and the Study of Slavery and the Slave Trade

April 14, 2016 | By | No Comments

         BARDSS will allow scholars of Atlantic slavery to access data on hundreds of thousands of individual African slaves and their descendants who lived and died in Latin American slave societies.  The quantity of data in BARDSS means that historians and social scientists will be able to use baptismal records as a kind of census, opening many possible avenues for research. One exciting possibility for historians of the slave trade is to employ BARDSS data to fill gaps in our existing knowledge of Atlantic slave trade patterns. One cannot understate the impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database on our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade.  However, due to the fragmented nature of the sources, the data is often quite incomplete.  For example, out of the 910 transatlantic slave voyages that arrived in Cuba from 1789 to 1820, during the era of the legal slave trade, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database  can only tell us the African region of embarkation for 239 (Fig.3).  Thus, the African origin for nearly three-quarters of the Cuban transatlantic slave trade is a puzzle.  However, by examining the contents of BARDSS’ Origin attribute, we can begin to assemble the missing pieces and complete our picture of African forced migration to Cuba.


          Churches usually baptized African slaves soon after their arrival in the Americas, and, as noted above, the vast majority of these slaves were identified as belonging to an African nation.  While these nations may not have corresponded to contemporary African polities or ethnic groups, they correlated closely with the different African coasts where slave ships embarked their captives.  For the year of 1808, for example, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database contains information on seven slave ships landing captives in Cuba.  Of these seven, one arrived from the Bight of Biafra, one from the coast of present-day Sierra Leone, and the other four were of unknown origin.  By looking at the baptisms performed in just one church in Havana, Espiritu Santo, during 1808, we can begin to make educated guesses about the unknown embarkation regions of the remaining two ships.  Surprisingly, a plurality of the African slaves baptized in the Church of Espiritu Santu were identified as Congo, a national origin corresponding to a sprawling region of West Central Africa (see figure 4).  We can be fairly certain, then, that at least one of the two ships took on slaves along the coast of present-day Angola and Gabon.



             BARDSS’ ability to tell us about the African origins of slaves in the Americas is even more crucial for the era of the illegal slave trade, which continued on a large scale in nineteenth-century Brazil and Cuba.  Smugglers of slaves, hoping to cover their tracks, rarely left behind detailed itineraries of their illicit voyages.  In many cases, details about illegal slaving voyages are only known thanks to the interdiction of mainly-British naval vessels tasked with hunting down slave ships.  In 1830, Matanzas was a thriving center of Cuban coffee and sugar production–industries dependent on the labor of enslaved Africans. For historians interested in learning about the African origins of the slaves working Matanzas’ cafetals and ingenios, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is a poor source.  It contains information on only one ship, the schooner Santa Rosa, which in 1830 unloaded slaves of unknown origin in Matanzas. What little Slave Voyages can tell us about this ship comes from the records of British officials tasked with the slave trade in Cuba.  However, the baptismal records of the San Carlos Cathedral in Matanzas tell a different story.  In 1830, 284 adult African slaves were baptized at San Carlos.  They belonged to more than seven different nations corresponding to every major slave trading region on the Atlantic coast of Africa (see figure 4).  Clearly these individuals could not have all arrived on the Santa Rosa. Instead, the Matanzas slave trade appears to have been wide-ranging, with slave ships bringing captives from Upper Guinea and Sierra Leone (Mandinga and Ganga), the Bights of Benin and Biafra (Arara, Carabali, Lucumi, and Mina), and from the coast of Central Africa (Congo) (Fig. 5).



              BARDSS’ utility is not limited to studies of the Atlantic slave trade itself.  After all, African slaves baptized as older children or adults comprise only a portion of the entities included in the database.  In many circumstances, the majority of baptized individuals were newborn infants, whose parents’ names (often including ethnonyms) and birthdates were recorded by the priest performing the baptism ceremony.  This allows historians a glimpse into the intimate lives of enslaved people.  For example, the archives of San Carlos in Matanzas record 368 infants born in the year 1830–a frequency of 1.01 per day.  By month, the number of births ranged from a low of 22 in August to a high of 38 in October.  Adjusting for the length of each month, the frequency of births ranged from 0.71 per day in August to 1.23 in September–an increase of 73 percent (see figure 5).  What might account for the steep decline in Matanzas births during the summer of 1830 and the dramatic rise in autumn?  With BARDSS, a inquiring researcher would be able to compare birth rates from one year to the next and across geographical locations in order to determine whether and where this pattern was repeated.  If so, he/she might begin to identify environmental, social, or economic explanations for this pattern (Fig. 6).


            Needless to say, we cannot give a full accounting here of the possibilities BARDSS offers for historians, social scientists, and genealogists.  As with any source, the informativeness of baptismal records depends on the questions researchers ask of them.  BARDSS can tell us about much more than baptisms. It contains data on locations, dates, children, parents, priests, slaves, slaveholders, free people of color, the African slave trade, and more.  As described above, BARDSS data can be used alongside those of other online databases to fill gaps in our knowledge of the past and answer important historical questions.  

Autumn Beyer


April 12, 2016

Mapping Morton Village: Introduction Modal and User Navigation

April 12, 2016 | By | No Comments

As Nikki and I finish up the final touches on the Mapping Morton Village site, I focused on user interaction and navigation. One aspect of our site that we knew we wanted to include was an automatic (on page-load) popup modal to give an introduction to our site, see image below.

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Nikki Silva


March 30, 2016

Mapping Morton Village: Lightbox Images and Captions

March 30, 2016 | By | No Comments

During the past few weeks, we’ve focused on getting some technical aspects of the site figured out. I focused on making our images more interactive by giving each one Lightbox attributes, which makes the images/captions larger and ‘pop-out’ from the page. We also gave images captions on the page and in the Lightbox pop-up, though we still need to write captions for many of the images. For the captions on the page, I created a separate div-class for captions in our main CSS file, which centers the caption underneath the images and provides the styling for the caption boxes (white font in a gray box). Read More



March 13, 2016

Mapping Meaningful Sound: The Before or After Question

March 13, 2016 | By | No Comments

My CHI project (#hearmyhome), uses sound to amplify what Steph Ceraso has called “multimodal listening,” a process that attends to the bodily, material, and contextual aspects of sonic interactions and relations. #hearmyhome uses the rhythmic resonances of everyday to explore more expansive understandings of space, place, and self. Thus, for a project that is about writing with place, mapping its products and participation seemed a must. As a collaborative team, we decided to hang our research on a hashtag, #hearmyhome, to aggregate data. It allowed us to index user-produced soundscapes while attending to the wider goal of exploring the multiple “homes” of our global participants. At first, we were curious in creating a crawler, a tool that would crawl the hashtag and pin locations of participants’ products. If the research component of the project investigates the acoustic territories of everyday culture, then we would want to visually see its cartographic reach.

Now, in its fifth week, as the sonic event sequence turns the corner on the halfway mark, I’ve taken a step back. I’ve asked myself, “How do I map (and for what purpose) meaningful sound?” Limited by my own technological know-how with Leaflet and Mapbox, the pause in constructing the map and soundscapes knowledge base has been delayed. Well, stopped actually. I’ve taken a hiatus with that part of the project. Collecting the mundane music through each sonic event, I’ve decided to chart and map #hearmyhome’s participation at the conclusion of the 8-week sequence. Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 7.10.47 PMThe engagement between #hearmyhome participants across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is far more interesting than any meaningful work that would happen by observing the expanse and scope of participation concurrently. Ultimately a pedagogical project, #hearmyhome has already sparked interesting instructional questions. For example, users have asked how remediating a ‘Where I’m From…’ poem may change if choosing not to write it using alphabetic print, but instead selecting sound as the mode of primacy and attaching it to place. Deciding to map these small moments and glimpses of ambient audio after the sonic even sequence, we hope to keep the buzz alive far into the future as we lurk, learn, and lead alongside of you all.

If you are still interested in participating in #hearmyhome join us by signing up for our weekly emails here. Like our page on Facebook for more information on each sonic event or simply ‘lurk and learn’ by following the #hearmyhome hashtag across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Interested in what participant sounds like? Click the Soundcloud link below and listen to how Steph responded to the prompt for our fifth #hearmyhome sonic event. We chose Steph’s example as it illustrates not only the beauty of noise, silence, and everyday hearings, but also for her ability and skill to remix the found sounds into a song all of their own. We encourage you to join the #hearmyhome collaborative at any time and we look forward to earwitnessing the everyday with you.

Note: Hours after publishing the original version of this post, I found the How to Make a Sound Map: Cartographic, Compositional, Performative article on the Acoustic Ecology blog. May be worthwhile for those of you interested in the intersection of sonic composition and narrative cartography.

Bernard C. Moore


March 4, 2016

Finland in Namibia: On the Way to an Omeka Exhibit

March 4, 2016 | By | No Comments

March 2013, Helsinki: I had the privilege to interview Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Prize Laureate, for my documentary film From Windhoek to Washington. From 1977 through 1981, Ahtisaari was the United Nations Special Representative for Namibia, and eventually the UN Special Representative, directing the United Nations Transition Assistance Group which administered the first free elections in Namibia in 1989, ushering in the post-apartheid period with independence on 23 March, 1990. His work in Namibia and later in Kosovo led to his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.

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Autumn Beyer


March 3, 2016

Mapping Morton Village: User Interaction

March 3, 2016 | By | No Comments

We have made some major progress since Nikki’s post last week! Not only have we figured out our toggling layer problem, we have placed the interactive map into our website! While we still have some little things to keep working on and adding to the website, our focus is now on user interaction. How do we want visitors to the site to learn about archaeology? How do we want to highlight certain aspects of archaeology? How much do we want to show on the map without it becoming cluttered?

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Sara Bijani


February 26, 2016

Marxists, Anarchists, and American Digital Archives

February 26, 2016 | By | No Comments

I’ll start with a story. This project began with the very broad objective of constructing a recyclable content management interface with OHMS incorporation, to be reused at a later stage in my dissertation project. I stumbled into the Finally Got the News content I’ve incorporated in this iteration of the build entirely by chance, but I was drawn into the material by a story.

In the early 2000s, my advisor—a labor and gender historian—was researching a project on masculinity in the American automotive past at the Reuther Library when one of the archivists handed her a VHS copy of Finally Got the News. The archive had been given a stack of these VHS tapes, to be distributed to anyone interested in Michigan’s labor past. This was the revolutionary ethic of film activism that drove the creation of this project in the 1970s, and that ethic had been kept alive by efforts of this sort for decades. Today, the internet helps to keep this activism alive, with the full length film hosted on Youtube for anyone to watch and download and share.

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Nikki Silva


February 26, 2016

Mapping Morton Village – Figuring Things Out

February 26, 2016 | By | No Comments

The past few weeks have been eventful for the Mapping Morton Village project, since Autumn’s blog post on 2/11, we have completed all of the content for the website, and continued working on the interactive map. Mapbox has been a bit of a struggle for us, as we could not get the data for Morton Village to appear on our map. We wanted multiple layers to show the work done during each year of excavation (1980s, 2008-2014). Within these layers we would have the content that we have been working on (see Autumn’s blog post) available as pop-ups on specific pit features or structures. We were unsure how to pull our shapefile layers from Mapbox into our website’s code to create these ‘year’ layers, anything we tried we could not see our data on the map. We researched extensively to try to find an answer to our problem, and were not having much luck until Autumn posted on the GIS Stack Exchange site with our issues and a few users were able to help us.

Our problem had been that we were trying to pull the tilesets, which are vector data, directly into our code, which will not work. To pull tilesets into the code, we needed to create an editor project in Mapbox Classic for each of our year layers, containing the structure and feature data as geoJSON files. Once we figured this out, I converted our shapefiles into geoJSON, and Autumn was able to adjust the code and add the map-id for each of our editor projects. We can toggle these layers on and off in the map, and we have also put content with each of their corresponding pit features/structures (see photos below). This makes things a little easier, because we have both the pit features and structures in the same layer (which we didn’t before) and we can easily format the data in the Mapbox Editor project for each layer and it automatically updates on our map (styling, descriptions, etc.). We have made a lot of progress in the past few weeks and we are excited about continuing to build the Mapping Morton Village interactive map! Read More



February 21, 2016

The ivory tower: power, privilege and the iron-gate that surrounds knowledge

February 21, 2016 | By | No Comments

Big, ambitious projects require energy and huge sets of data that isn’t easily accessible. No surprise there! But, why? Why is archival research a maddening, mind-numbing, stress-inducing and life-reducing process? At the crux of this heated debate are signed over oral histories and other vital materials, donated or part of projects that are now at universities or repositories affiliated with the American Folklife Center under the Library of Congress that are needed to complete the website This is my story: Detroit 1967. Unsurprisingly, the result of these benign tasks are a few gray hairs huddled at or near the temples because of frustrations with accessibility and limitations with knowledge yielding teeth-grinding attempts to work with public university(ies) and/or the Library of Congress and their third party affiliations. Hindering my workflow and efficiency are issues of public versus private, which are now the center of discussion for this post. Why is so-called public information privatized? Why is knowledge hoarded? Why is knowledge owned?

Problems of accessibility aren’t new in the academy, you are preaching to the choir. One of the hopes with digital innovation among other things was to digitize files and to circumvent the librarian or the archivist that stood in the way of the researcher. It happened, yes, but not in the droves that one would hope for. Please understand, quite a bit is digitized just not what I needed for my research—cue the stress-inducing and life-reducing negotiation process to get the information in its various mediums.

Photo “Current Archive” by Flickr user carmichaellibrary.  Used under Attribution 2.0 Generic

Photo “Current Archive” by Flickr user carmichaellibrary. Used under Attribution 2.0 Generic

The irony of knowledge accessibility within the university, a public institution has proven to be a major problem with This is my story: Detroit 1967. Universities pride themselves as being bastions of knowledge. Knowledge that comes with a price tag that isn’t exactly monetary, per se, but relentless borderline nuisance, pest-like behavior for what should be a relatively simple task. You make a call or send an email, give the librarian the necessary information and voila you have what you need. From my experience it isn’t that straightforward. I’ve had to supply everything shy of my master plan to take over the world. Yes, I’m being facetious, but it is the truth. I’m annoyed, highly, but not deterred to make this project come to fruition. Here’s the problem, I need oral histories that are public, at least, some of them are, but some are protected by legal release. The legal release is a document that protects the interviewee and itemizes what and how the oral history is to be used and what for. Now, some legal releases and their terms are lenient, others are stern and have detailed restrictions. Hence, my feverish need to work with these entities to get these rich stories.

This may seem very foolish of me as I’ve done archival research in the past, but I’m going to put this out there to challenge the robust conversations on private versus public. If information is public its public. PERIOD. DOT. END OF STORY. There shouldn’t be any gray area or limitations. If there are conditions than it shouldn’t be public. That was easy! Conversely, private has its varying levels hence its complexities, but don’t allow its intricacies thwart your research or research mission.

This may across as a gripe and less of an overall assessment as to what’s wrong with the academy, as it pertains to information in their possession, but more so the lack of distinction between public and private, and their streamlining of this data. Lastly, once given access to the requested material it shouldn’t feel like walking into Fort Knox is any easier or seeking trade secrets from the CEO of Apple or Google is as effortless as ordering Sunday brunch than getting data from an institution or archive. Information from public universities should not require a vile of O positive blood, with a guide to ensure that you are where you are suppose to be with key card/key lock entry. I’m just saying! A massive change is needed and soon.


Lisa Bright


February 18, 2016

Creating Structure for TOMB

February 18, 2016 | By | No Comments

As Katy mentioned over on the Digital Archaeology Institute blog, we’re focusing on two major steps in the development of our project: 1) creating the framework, and 2) developing the content. For more details about the content development, head on over to Katy’s post.

Some of the major steps in creating TOMB’s framework will include developing the main map, creating the GeoJSON file the individual site information will pull from, and creating the website structure. I’d like to take a moment and discuss the importance of focusing on website structure. Sitting down and really thinking about how your entire site will be laid out, and how users will navigate through your content is an incredibly important first step that many new developers tend to overlook. I’m sure we’ve all been to bad website before, ones that are poorly thought out where you’re left thinking “where the heck do I find what I’m looking for?!”.

For me, this means taking a step back from the digital realm and putting pen to paper. At this point I’m not concerned with things like fiddling around with the pages to create better search engine optimization (SEO), or ADA compliance. That’s a level of voodoo magic I’ll deal with later (in what at this point feels like a previous life, I worked as a marketing assistant for a campus department focusing on SEO and pay per click advertising so I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves). What we’re focusing on now is structuring the website so that our intended users, students and teachers, have an enjoyable and educational experience with the site. If you’re new to this process and looking for details instructions/suggestions for creating good website information architecture and content I highly recommend this guide created by Princeton. Read More