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Jack Biggs


November 10, 2016

Subadult Skeletal Age Estimation

November 10, 2016 | By | No Comments

As it gets later and later into the semester, I’ve started trying to put together ideas for my CHI project.  While I’ve been thinking about what specifically I would like to do, there was one notion that kept popping up in my head: make accessible, usable, and relevant for other people, not just myself.  Sometimes as researchers, we get so buried in our niche fields and specialties that although we view our own research as interesting and significant, others obviously do not.  I feel that this is especially true in anthropology and archaeology given how technological advances of the past few decades have allowed us to create even more specialized areas of research.  Though these new methods can greatly add to our understanding of how populations of the past interacted and moved within, through, and around cultural and physical landscapes, we must be careful not to disenfranchise other researchers in the process.

As I discussed in my previous post, I study subadults’ social identities as well as skeletal growth and development within Late Classic Maya society.  To me, this is absolutely fascinating and necessary for understanding the ancient Maya.  To other bioarchaeologists, archaeologists, or even the general public, it is not, just in the way that other people put emphasis on their research as an essential tenet of their field.  In other words, not everyone places the same level of importance on specific aspects of research as you do.  The specialization of your methods and research should be approached very cautiously so as not to make you too generalized on the one hand, or too specialized on the other.  This is what I want to avoid while thinking about my CHI project.  If it’s too generalized, it will just become lost in the sea of similar online tools.  If too specific, then it has the potential to be relevant to a very small number of people and therefore useless to most archaeologists, bioarchaeologists, and students of human osteology my target audience.

Taking all of this into consideration, I’ve been thinking about how to effectively integrate my specific research into a much broader capacity for my CHI project that would be useful for people other than those who study ancient Maya childhood (of which there are very few).  However, since I do focus on skeletal growth and development I feel that I can use that knowledge and hopefully translate it into a tool that is useful and educational.  My most likely idea would be to create some sort of minimally interactive repository for estimating the age of subadult skeletal remains.

Subadult skeletal remains are much easier from which to obtain an age-at-death due to incredibly well-documented processes that the body undergoes during the first 18-20 years of life.  These mainly include the incredibly specific timing of teething events (down to a few-month window) and tracking growth plate fusion.

Dental eruption chart from "Human Osteology", Academic Press, 3 ed. (2011) - Tim D. White, Michael T. Black & Pieter A. Folkens

Dental eruption chart from “Human Osteology”, Academic Press, 3 ed. (2011) – Tim D. White, Michael T. Black & Pieter A. Folkens

In adults, it is much more difficult to estimate age-at-death since the body has stopped growing and you are then looking at degenerative changes over time which are affected by health, occupation, status, etc.  Although studies over estimating age are numerous, there is not a dedicated repository focusing on subadult remains.  I feel it would be beneficial to create some kind of age estimator where the user would indicate what levels or stages of growth and development an certain bone presents (that is being physically studied by the user) and the website would crank out an estimated age range based on the most updated or accepted age-estimation studies.  Ideally this would be most heavily geared towards students but also used by other researchers as a way to quickly estimate the age based on multiple bones which otherwise would cause them to wade through different publications.  My goal is for this to potentially be used as both a learning interactive experience and a tool for the user.

This might sound all well and dandy, but why is estimating age-at-death so important?  Estimating the age-at-death of skeletal remains is one of the first tasks when encountering these materials, be they modern or archaeological.  Understanding the age distribution of a past population is invaluable to how you interpret that population.  Different cultural, biological, and environmental factors, all of which affect one another, will determine what the age distributions are within that population.  For an archaeologist, this helps reconstruct who this population was and how they functioned and interacted.  For example, normal age distributions for the ancient Maya show high infant mortality rates, low death rates among young adults, but higher death rates among older adults.  Compare this to the plague pits of Europe during the Black Death – everyone was affected almost equally so the age distribution is more or less even.  Since we are able to more accurately determine the ages of subadults, researchers can ask age-specific questions and better understand what kind of stresses juveniles and infants are experiencing at what specific ages in their childhood. Overall, understanding the age distribution is essential to understanding the people themselves.





November 5, 2016

Looking forward

November 5, 2016 | By | No Comments

It is November and we are moving further into web design and interactive visuals in our cohort work. I am getting excited about planning my project. I know I want to do something with visuals, space/place, and water.
I am still holding onto the idea of working with the water systems in Flint. However, I am still looking at some other possible ideas of place and space with my colleague and classmate, Stephanie Mahnke. We both have strong interests in Asian and Asian American studies and are both members of Asian Pacific American Graduate Association (APAGA) and may do something related to that.
Likewise, the water rights issues surrounding Standing Rock and the movement behind No DAPL has emerged this semester. This is reflective of the issues I have been looking at for the past few years around Indigenous social movements and water rights issues.
Whichever way I go on this project, I will need to think about place and space as well as digital presence and presentation. Additionally, I believe rhetorical sovereignty is an essential part of this project. So, I should make sure this project is one that incorporates the voices of the community it represents.
In short, I must ask myself some questions to start working on this project:

  • How will the topic of my project be presented? What kind of digital space will be most useful in promoting the topic of the project?
  • What community will this digital presence represent? How will the community be reached and represented in this digital format?  How can the community interact with this online presence?
  • How can it be useful and informative for both the community it represents? What needs does it meet for the community?  How will it encourage community engagement?
  • How will the visualization of the data explore the issue in new and useful ways that will develop and clarify connections within the data? How will this format be more effective than any other format that could be used?
  • What kind of interactive design on the website will help create activism and unity within the community? What new understanding and development of the topic will this digitization be able to present to help the community?

No matter which community I end up supporting with this project, I know I want to promote activism and engagement. All three of these communities have strong links to my world and life. It is a difficult choice and one I must make soon.
Any feedback you want to give is very welcome!
Thank you!



October 28, 2016

Changing Gears

October 28, 2016 | By | No Comments

When I first began thinking about a prospective CHI fellowship project, I wanted to map the Underground Railroad between Detroit and Windsor, specifically spatializing where and how people escaped. In the last few weeks however, I have begun to think about fundamentally changing my project. My primary reason for this is that I am studying 20th century US and Canadian history and feel that I would not be able to do justice to a project that is temporally so removed from my doctoral research.

Although the alternative has not fully germinated in my head, at this point I am gravitating towards understanding the impact of photographs on architecture and built form. Let me add a little context to this: I have been researching the Farm Security Administration’s photographs from the Great Depression era, in specific photographs that relate to the Resettlement Administration in their effort to relocate sharecroppers to other locations and break Poster of the Resettlement Administrationaway from land tenancy. Often criticized for being ‘socialist’ in its mindset, the Resettlement Administration made way for the Farm Security Administration.  Before that however, there was a proliferation of ‘company towns’ throughout the Unites States, thanks to the Resettlement Administration. At their peak in the 1930s, company towns housed about 2 million Americans, including as many as one in five adults in places like South Carolina. But most made way for the post World War II suburban sprawl.

These company towns embody a certain kind of welfare capitalism, in form and philosophy. Often built and designed in conjunction with large infrastructural projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s dam projects. Often these towns claimed to use local materials, and embody a vernacular architectural form. For my CHI project then, as a preliminary thought, I would like to map these company towns in the South, especially in Tennessee. The company town, in the early decades of the 20th century, especially, represents a specific moment American history when welfare capitalism was able to dictate every aspect of life.Often, these company towns were a response to a certain kind of industry, and thus supported specific kinds of industries and transport infrastructure. I think digital tools, provided through open-source platforms Github, Leaflet, and Mapbox, and enhanced through JavaScript programming will help spatialize these company towns in novel ways. Specifically, I think an interactive map of these company towns placed in a larger regional context will help tease out relationships of these urban forms with other New Deal infrastructural projects, such as large dams. In specific, it might help us question the model of the company town itself. Refreshments concession inside the Norris visitors' building

Some of the projects that guide my evolving project are:

  1. How can digital tools be used to spatialize historical data? Specifically, how can we use digital mapping to tell an effective story of company town planning and form?
  2. How might it be possible to integrate the FSA photographs with the plans of company towns? What will this tell us about the ways in which the Great Depression was represented in popular culture?
  3. How might we re-think the suburban sprawl in relation to these company towns and big infrastructure?

While the specifics of my project are still being worked out, I would like to point out the ways in which I think digital tools are especially useful in redefining scale and impact of my project:

  1. Digital tools, especially GIS have helped re-open spatial questions across disciplines, but especially in History. Indeed, by scraping spatial data from archives, researchers can address a variety of questions. These tools help researchers ask old questions anew with greater analytical depth and context.
  2. Through spatializing and visualizing data, these tools help tease out connections that might have otherwise seemed latent. Visualization of data is an underused tool, in my reading, especially in the humanities. Just being able to see things on a large canvas often times makes connections far more explicit.
  3. Interactive interface. To me, the most exciting part of the project is the ability to design a user interface that lets the user interact with historical act in tactile ways. In a sense, a well thought out and designed interface can help the archival material speak for itself.

And now, I will go back to figuring out the specifics of my project. Any feedback/inputs/comments are always welcome!

Jack Biggs


October 16, 2016

Introducing Jack Biggs and the Digitization and 3D Modeling of Human Skeletal Remains

October 16, 2016 | By | No Comments

Hi everyone! So I tried to post my introduction blog a while back but I guess I somehow messed it up and it never appeared so this is going to be a double blog today.
My name is Jack Biggs and I am a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology. My focus is in the bioarchaeology of the ancient Maya in Central America, primarily within the Late and Terminal Classic Periods (about AD 250 to 950). I will hopefully finish up my coursework next spring and start working on my dissertation proposal.lamanai
Although not entirely set in stone, my (hopeful) dissertation research will focus on the skeletal biology and cultural identities of subadults in Late Classic and Terminal Classic ancient Maya society. Specifically, I am interested in how the growth and development of the skeleton is affected by cultural, biological, and environmental stressors and surroundings. By looking at how these factors affected infants and children, I hope to analyze differences in how society viewed subadults, how they were treated compared to adults, and by proxy, how we can interpret maternal health via infant remains.
Additionally, most of my research and the collections from which I will collect data come from central Belize. The skeletal remains from these sites are predominantly from cave and rockshelter contexts which were often used as mortuary spaces. The comparison between these site types and possibly between more urban centers (data and preservation willing!) will add an interesting extra layer to my overall research goals.
I have yet to decide exactly what I’m going to do for my CHI project, but I’m excited to figure it out and be a part of this program!

So like I said earlier, I’ll also be posting another entry today. Similar to what Autumn posted previously, I will be focusing on photogrammetry as well. In the Maya Bioarchaeology Lab here at Michigan State, we have been using photogrammetry for about a year. Instead of cultural artifacts, we have been making models of the skeletal remains that were excavated from a number of sites in central Belize.
AKB11-13-32For me, one of the most important aspects of creating these digital models is to preserve the bones and the data that they give. The remains are incredibly fragile and by making models of them, we’re able to preserve them digitally and slow down the rate at which they break down due to handling. However, the data they give us is also incredibly valuable. Within the programs available to create and modify the models, you can also take measurements in the 3D space. This is incredibly useful for bioarchaeologists since discrete skeletal differences between groups or populations can be left in the architecture of the bone, especially on the skull.
Additionally, we are trying to use photogrammetry to digitally reconstruct bones that may otherwise may be too fragmentary or may be missing pieces that connect other parts of the bone. Again, this can give us the ability to collect data from places where it was previously unavailable.
Even though we are still working on the kinks and focusing on our methodology at this point, it is incredibly exciting to see the potential that photogrammetry has for the future of archaeology and bioarchaeology.



October 16, 2016

Place and Space: Northern Wales in the 1800s to 1900s

October 16, 2016 | By | No Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I presented some research on place and space at the Cultural Rhetorics Conference (CRCon).  My presentation was on “Whose Voice and Space?: A look at white space and rhetorical sovereignty in St. Kitts memory of colonization.” Specifically, I looked into the massacre of the Kalinago people at Bloody Point and how that relates to the rhetorical sovereignty around the claiming of the land and deaths at the hands of the colonizers of the Island and how it relates to the rhetorical sovereignty of the Islanders.

I am very excited about the work we are starting in relation to mapping because of my interest in Indigenous peoples and People of Color and our emerging voices and the rhetorical sovereignty we claim over our own stories and histories in contrast to the stories told about us. As my cohort learned during this week’s lecture, maps are political and tell a story of power. Who claims that power over the land and place that is mapped, tells their perspective of what is true about that location. In short, the act of claiming the land, naming the places, and presenting a history of that location to fit a narrative are acts of power and colonialism.
I am looking forward to our current assignment of creating an interactive map, as my colleagues and I have chosen to look at Northern Wales. Wales, like other some other Celtic areas, was conquered by the English. However, unlike many places (like St. Kitts) that were colonized many centuries later, they managed to keep their language and culture (while somewhat modified) mostly intact. This caused many of the places and locations to have a Welsh name as well as an Anglicized name and–on occasion—an alternative English name.  

Specifically, on our map, we will be looking at the labor produced in the area (specifically the quarries, mines, and woolen mills—including places of strikes and unionization), who benefited from that labor, and the philanthropic results of these acts within the community that created arts communities and arts education outreaches that are results of families that financially benefited from the industrial ages’ slave trade and wanted to benefit from the work produced by Welsh laborers in the 1800s to the 1900s. However, while large estates, gardens, and resorts were built with this money, the locals from the region, experienced hardships. This lead to strikes, work outages, and unionization. This action created a better financial base through the better wages through unionization so the communities of these Welsh laborers and their communities benefited. The philanthropic results of the money placed back into the community by these workers and their families created arts and educational programs that benefited the region.

In short, I am looking forward to exploring this idea in more depth and visually representing this time and location by recognizing some of the history that is overlooked by many.   

Autumn Beyer


October 13, 2016

A Different Perspective on Ceramic Fabric Impressions: 3D Modeling

October 13, 2016 | By | No Comments

This past week I attended the 60th anniversary of the Midwest Archaeological Conference in Iowa City, Iowa. While my presentation overlapped with the digital archaeology session, I was able to attend one presentation by Dr. Sissel Schroeder, Jake Pfaffenroth, Marissa Lee, and Sarah Taylor (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on Photogrammetry and 3D Models of Fabric from Impressions in Pottery.

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May 6, 2016

Launching Michicanxs of Aztlán: Stories of Xicano Culture in Michigan

May 6, 2016 | By | No Comments

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 10.21.33 AM

Now live and available for your viewing pleasure, Michicanxs of Aztlán is a website documenting Xicano culture in Lower Michigan. This project grew out of my work in CHI last year with The Xicano Cookbook project, and I decided to branch off in order to take a slightly different approach on a very similar topic. Whereas last year’s project functioned like a digital essay that discursively discussed various theories, stories, and images related to Xicano culture, this year’s project is more like a collection of snapshots. By focusing on a small number of stories, I have been able to contextualize my data to a greater extent by giving it more space within my website.

Created as part of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellowship program, Michicanxs of Aztlán is also intended to function as an ongoing sort of repository of Xicano narratives. Great Lakes Xicanos in particular have limited space—virtually or physically—to display our work, and few repositories like this exist currently digitally.

Michicanxs of Aztlán currently displays three stories written as part of an independent in Xicano/Indigenous rhetorics, which I took fall semester 2015. Each story has its own page, with an individualized header that includes a representative image and short description of the narrative. I’ve included these descriptions below.

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Bernard C. Moore


April 25, 2016

A Review of Namibiana Resources on the Web

April 25, 2016 | By | No Comments

A Review of Namibiana Resources on the Web

As I have mentioned in previous Blog posts for the CHI, the Namibia Digital Repository contains two main endeavors. First, it is a digitization project; countless hours have been spent standing in front of scanners digitizing books and papers, and many more have been spent setting up VHS players to record to hard drives. I have described the process of digitization in a previous post on 29, January, 2016.

This post describes the other goal of the NDR, agglomeration of existing digital resources regarding Namibia which are already on the web. A few qualifiers should be made. First, the goal of pulling existing resources – whether from university repositories, NGO web-sites or government publications – is not about replacing these repositories. It is about providing an additional home to the files. One of the less appreciated aspects of digitization and the digital humanities is the maintenance and organization of digital resources.1

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March 22, 2016

BARDSS: The Administrator and the User Interface

March 22, 2016 | By | No Comments

This post explores the structure of BARDSS and, in particular, how we envision the user interface which might be launched by the end of April, 2016. BARDSS is divided into two main domains: the data entry/administrator interface and the user, search, and visualization interface. The data entry is only accessible for those working in the project. It is used by the team in charge of extracting the data from the documents and migrating it to the software. The user interface has a main landing web-page with diverse sections. The most important tool in the user interface is the search tool. This is where users can do crossed search based on the fields already listed and that we already introduced to the readers in the last post.

This is how we migrate data from the documents to the data entry form or administrator interface (Fig. 1): In order to make everything faster, we divide the screen into two windows, one for the database entry section, and the other for the digitized copy of the baptismal records. It looks more difficult than it actually is. There are many predetermined field that we just need to click on to add the data. For example, if we click on gender, legal status or filiation , a tab open with the limited options for those fields. We just need to select one of them. Once a field is added, we can reuse it without needing to write it again. For example, in the field “African origin,” every time we find a new “African nation” we click on the icon (+) and add the new nation. This feature works in the same way for owner, priest, church, and location. Once added, everything is faster. Fields are reusable. If the conditions are favorable, the images are clear, and the calligraphy is not extremely complicated, we usually spend around three minutes to add a single baptismal record to the database. We can access to the list of every record we have added and we can edit them whenever we want (Fig. 2).

addbaptismFig 1: Screenshot of the data entry section or administrator interface

dataentryFig. 2: Screenshot of a record list from the administrator interface

The user Interface: a work in progress

This is how we envision the user interface (Fig.3). The landing page will contain the basic information of BARDSS, but most important, the search tool. The section Using the Database offer to the users some instruction of how to navigate the site. This section will also contain the description of the fields. In particular, we want to highlight that some fields need to be approached carefully such as “African Nation” and “Race.” This section will also contain a glossary of historical terms that are usually used in the documents. Map and Images will contain some significative images related to slavery in places represented on BARDSS such as Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, and Florida. An interactive map will show the location of those parishes that show up on the site. About the Project is dedicated to acknowledging those institutions and individual contributors that have helped to make this project possible. It will also have some links to related projects such as the ESSS or the “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database”. Finally, the Contribute will make possible for users working with baptismal records on slave societies to collaborate with our project. We have not decided yet what would be the best way to make possible this collaboration through an interactive method between collaborators and administrators.

userinterface                                                            Fig. 3: BARDSS landing page

The most important section in BARDSS is the search tool, this is the core of this project. The goal is that users can make different types of crossed search based on the fields contained in the database. There are two main ways to search in the database, by data categories or by text. Data categories are those fixed fields we used to move the information from the document to the database. The great majority of the fields from BARDSS could be considered “data categories.” Some examples are gender, origin, filiation, legal status, age category, etc. The text category refers to those fields that are mainly plain text, such as names of the owners, baptized individual, mother, father, etc. The left side of the side in the search section will contain a list of the data and the users just need to choose/filter to obtain the results. After the search, the results will show up in a table expandable columns containing the fields selected during the search. Based on the successful project, the “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database,” BARDSS will make possible to the users to visualize their search. The results can be manipulated in the form of graphs, pie charts, and bar charts. Next section will show some of this features and some samples of the type of visualization users can expect from BARDSS.

serchtool                                            Fig. 4: The search tool, a work in progress



March 22, 2016

“Crunk Mestizaje” Story Preview

March 22, 2016 | By | No Comments

For my CHI project this year, I am building a website that will host stories of Xicano cultural survivance in Michigan. I’d like to take the opportunity with this blog post to give a preview of one story to be featured on that site. Enjoy!

In 2004 my brother—stage64ebca376845f34bc5a6fe3d9e78ba07f5c84e05 name “the Latino Saint,” or “Saint” for short— released a crunk rap album entitled, Half Breed. As far back as I can remember, his music has pretty much always been about partying and taking pride in Mexican and Latino identities; this album is no exception. Half Breed takes its name from the mixed Mexican and white backgrounds from which we both come. As with most crunk music, much of the content is centered around alcohol, dancing and celebrating life with friends and family. Yet, in spite of the negative connotation of the term “half breed” itself, Saint delivers these club songs from an unapologetically Mexican perspective, reclaiming both the term and the concept of “half breed” and using it to assert his own position as a Mexican MC from the Midwest.

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