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franc230

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May 10, 2019

CHIMIRA Launch Post

May 10, 2019 | By | No Comments

            CHIMIRA is a metadata schema created for the management and description of cultural heritage assets within an archaeological purview. This metadata schema was incorporated into a digital repository for MSU collections. While the digital repository has been finished and data entry is under way, there is currently no front-end framework to display these data to the public (though there are plans for one in the near future). Since there is no public website linking to my project, I have linked to my GitHub, which contains the documentation for CHIMIRA.

Screenshot of the Project Home for the Digital Library

            Every good metadata scheme has a name. In respect of the fellowship which allowed for the creation of this one, I decided to name my metadata scheme CHIMIRA: The Cultural Heritage Informatics Metadata Initiative for Research in Archaeology. In addition to thanking the CHI fellowship, I wanted the name to reflect how it is many-parted like the mythical, Greek chimera. Multiple metadata standards are responsible for the creation of CHIMIRA, including: CARARE, TDAR/Digital Antiquity, ARGUS, DCMI, CIDOC CRM, and LIDO. With an archaeological audience in mind, I chose parts of these standards which would best consider the identification, provenience and description of heritage assets. The goal was to create a database which could flexibly describe cultural heritage in its many forms and in a detailed manner. The ability to conduct research with this database was not the goal, but it is a possibility. At the very least, the level of detail that can be described will make the planning of research an order of magnitude easier.

Once the standards and entities were chosen, they had to be fit into the particular structure that the digital repository application, KORA, calls for. This eventually led to a structure with 8 overarching forms: Collection Information, Heritage Asset, Digital Resource, Document, Site, Activity, Actors, and ARGUS ID (see the link for the full metadata schema). These forms allow records to be created for archaeological phenomena which may be associated with the archaeological collections at MSU: a specific collection would fall under Collection Information; an artifact would fall under Heritage Asset; an image or 3D model would fall under Digital Resource; and so on. Any of these records can then be associated with one another. Every Heritage Asset, for example will be able to be associated with its relevant collection.

Screenshot of the CHIMIRA Forms

The end result is a new digital repository using a new metadata standard for MSU archaeology collections. Data from the Butterfield Collection have provided the initial substance for this repository, but plans exist to incorporate all data from MSU archaeology collections into the digital repository. This will greatly increase the ease of managing collections and planning research using these collections. Further, this cultural heritage will be available online through the anthropology website both as raw data and as digital exhibits interpreting various aspects of the collections.

Data Entry Page for One of the Forms

The next step in this project will be the incorporation of this digital repository into a front-end framework that can display the data and resources. This will be in the form of a website. Putting data from the collections on the web will further serve two major goals of this project: making the data more accessible to researchers and the public; and allowing for public outreach through “digital exhibits”. Using blog posts and essays labeled as “Digital Exhibits,” archaeologists from the anthropology department will be able to give their own interpretations of cultural heritage. This could include faculty, graduate students and undergraduates who write their own informed essays about the particular artifacts, documents, actors or other aspect of the collections that interest them. This could further generate interest in the archaeological collections at MSU and perhaps even stimulate research. Overall, these collections will be more accessible to researchers and the public, providing better opportunities for important cultural heritage to be reused thanks in part to CHIMIRA.

cartyrya

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May 10, 2019

Introducing Africa’s Imperial Commodities

May 10, 2019 | By | No Comments

I’m launching Africa’s Imperial Commodities, a digital history project that explores export data from Africa to Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The website includes essays that contextualize the available data and data visualizations that allow users to engage with the information in the underlying dataset. The three main essays on the website feature animal skin, peanut, and kola exports. There are also links to related digital projects and brief descriptions of the technology used on the website.

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franc230

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April 27, 2019

Data Fears

April 27, 2019 | By | No Comments

The metadata scheme for my digital repository is finished and entered into KORA. There is now officially a place to enter data from the MSU archaeological collections online, and I am ecstatic. There is, however, still the fear that what I built may have hidden issues. This fear in part stems from a few talks that I attended at the meetings for the Society for American Archaeology earlier this month. These talks addressed issues such as data literacy and data reuse which are directly related to themes of my project. My project is, after all, the data management of archaeological collections.

One talk I found particularly relevant to my project was given by Erika C. Kansa who pointed out the need to improve data literacy among graduate students who often do not have to become data literate individuals. Bhargava et al. (2015) defines data literacy as the desire and ability to constructively engage in society through data. It requires one to understand the underlying principles of data and the pitfalls that one can fall into. One pitfall is the “File and Forget” attitude that can come with fancy data management systems concerned with the archival of data. There is a lot of data out there that has been painstakingly archived and described, but that data is often rarely reused, if ever.

The concept of reuse highlights the need to prepare data for dissemination and the need to get more communities involved in the reuse of data. This includes not only academics, but also the general public. There is a common sentiment that data needs to be protected from other academics who may steal the data or from the public who will misinterpret the data. I believe there is some merit to these arguments, but we run into problems of reuse when we become data dragons. Data dragons who horde the knowledge that has been arduously developed, built and added to and hidden in mountainous repositories. I am ardently of the opinion that the best way to make use of our data is to make it open. This means making the black boxes of our data accessible to the public by changing the culture of how people interact with data. Specifically by encouraging people to become more data literate, while also making our data more inclusive.

The CHI fellowship and building this database have made me personally more data literate, but the express goal of making the data more inclusive has always been on the periphery. The MSU Digital Repository contains metadata for describing a wide variety of archaeological situations, and was built with the intentions of being useful to archaeologists, and curators. The metadata are described and defined as plainly as possible (Here is a link to the github containing the metadata scheme – feel free to let me know what you think!). But the average person would undoubtedly have trouble meaningfully interpreting the data and the metadata without learning the basics of archaeology.

So far, I am unsure of how to explicitly make the data more inclusive and thus the fear that what I am making will fall by the wayside and never be reused. I think this aspect of the project will heavily rely on a future front-end framework (a website) which will more plainly layout the denser data that this repository is capturing along with easily digestible interpretations of the cultural heritage. This should get our data out there and encourage others to use it rather than hording it in cabinets.

holteri1

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April 25, 2019

The Simpler, The Better: Photo Carousels

April 25, 2019 | By | No Comments

I’ve often complained about introductory-level tutorials that operate under the assumption that you know something about programming. While in some cases I’ve successfully worked through a particularly difficult tool or explanation, ultimately what I’ve learned is: there’s probably an easier way.

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holteri1

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April 1, 2019

Feedback at the Speed of Light

April 1, 2019 | By | No Comments

             As a historian, most of my work – reading, writing, revising – is conducted alone. Feedback especially takes long periods of time and varies between professors and colleagues. Papers often go through conferences, editing, and rejection before you can claim you have completed a piece of work. On the other hand, Digital Humanities allows you to work with nearly instance feedback, providing cruel, unforgiving critiques.

franc230

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March 29, 2019

The Journey through Metadata

March 29, 2019 | By | No Comments

Previously….

               My previous update was written while in the middle of developing a metadata scheme for an anthropology department digital library. Most of this effort was directed towards finding the appropriate data to describe the data being curated by the department. This largely entailed the researching of metadata schemes and the consideration of unique factors that come along with the curation of archaeological heritage. This often meant making a decision on what entities to use.

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cartyrya

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March 16, 2019

Historical Data at the Enslaved Conference

March 16, 2019 | By | No Comments

On March 8th and 9th, Michigan State University hosted a conference titled Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade. The conference brought together scholars using databases to research the lives of individuals connected to slavery and the slave trade. The list of presenters can be found here, and videos of the presentations can be found on the Matrix YouTube channel. Most presenters at the conference focused on the lives of enslaved people in the Americas as captured in archival sources. The two dominant geographic areas for this type of research included the United States and Brazil. Other presenters drew from archaeological methods to explore the material pasts of slavery. Oral history and biographies also featured as methodologies used to build databases. Two themes emerged early in the conference and persisted throughout the presentation sessions: First linking different types of data and second developing best practices for data collection and management.

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franc230

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February 26, 2019

Metadata, Metadata, Metadata

February 26, 2019 | By | No Comments

My project entails the creation of a digital library for the management and public outreach of archaeological cultural heritage. The initial work towards this goal has entailed the building a metadata scheme. That is, finding the right data to describe data. There are a number of factors that go into describing data, but the most important and obvious goal should be its usefulness. There are three things I have done so far that I think have helped to make my metadata scheme useful:

  1. Researching established metadata schemes
  2. Utilizing metadata schemes already in use for the collections.
  3. Learning the collections management system, KORA, to better build my metadata scheme.

Established metadata schemes already exist to describe resources. Utilizing one or more of these uniform systems to describe data has many benefits. First, it makes it easier to compare and search through different collections from different organizations if the entities for describing those collections are the same. Secondly, it does some of the work for you by providing a useful list of possible terms to use that you may not have thought of. The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, for example, provides standard metadata entities and their definitions for describing resources. These include 15 “core properties” such as contributor, coverage, creator, date, description, identifier, etc. These entities are included in my metadata scheme, especially for the description of documentary resources like articles, newspaper clippings, and journals.

Using established, international metadata schemes is an important way to clearly organize and describe your data in a way that can be compared and clearly understood. But it is also important to transfer data that is already in the books. These collections are already being managed, and as such, have established metadata describing these collections. Transferring data already on record into the digital library will be much easier if the entities from both systems are somewhat analogous. To that end, I am using entities from collections management software already being utilized on campus to influence my choice of entities and the organization of the metadata scheme. ARGUS is one such software system.

The organization of the metadata scheme is also being heavily influenced by KORA; the collections management software program I am utilizing to build the digital library. The structure of KORA is organized around projects, forms, pages, fields and records.  The project will likely contain many forms which will be equivalent to the individual collections within the digital library. The metadata scheme will then be put into pages which will contain fields where data can be entered. The pages and fields will be the metadata scheme. A record will be the actual data describing an object that has been entered into the metadata scheme. The goal for my next blog post is to better describe the actual organization of my metadata scheme after putting it into KORA.

cartyrya

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February 13, 2019

Transforming Historical Data into Visualizations

February 13, 2019 | By | No Comments

A central component of my CHI project is working with historical data. The creation of a database from historical documents is a long and tedious process, so I have decided to use one already available online. A group of economic historians published the African Commodity Trade Database (ACTD) by working with the Rural Environment History Group at Wageningen University. One of their datasets includes more than nine thousand commodities exported from Africa from the early nineteenth century to World War II. I plan to build from their work by transforming some of their data into visualizations on a website. This process includes several decisions that will shape my final visualizations and the historical contextualization I will contribute to explaining them. I’ve described part of that process below by highlighting some of the decisions I’ve made in selecting which data to use.

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cartyrya

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January 31, 2019

Africa’s Imperial Commodities

January 31, 2019 | By | No Comments

Europe’s exploitation of Africa is a common narrative in African history. Scholars continue to use archival records to investigate the movement of enslaved persons and commodities from Africa to the Americas and Europe. In the past ten years, scholars have also produced digital projects that enhance economic, social, and cultural studies related to the transportation of African slaves to the Americas. However, there remain few digital projects harnessing the possibilities of Africa’s commodity data. Economic historians of Africa, more so than others, have contributed to the collection and publication of product-based datasets. While some of them publish their data online, it remains in digital formats requiring knowledge of data analysis software. The goal of my CHI project, then, is to re-purpose the available data as part of interactive visualizations that facilitate access for students and scholars.

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