News flash: sometimes your project doesn’t go the way you expect it to!

This month’s blog will be more of a project update, focusing on the logistics of my project’s progress rather than the specifics of the content. In the last month, I’ve been hitting the data gathering portion of my project quite hard, and finding a few snags along the road. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years of working with projects centered upon technology, it’s that things rarely go the way we planned in our initial outline. Technologies change, tools don’t work the way we expected, something that should take weeks only takes a few minutes, and something that we thought would take a day has taken almost a month. That’s part of the game. However, one of the advantages of digital projects is that it’s likely someone has been along this road before, someone has dealt with the same problems, and therefore, rather than kicking through the brush and finding your way back on track, you can probably find some breadcrumbs that will help you find another solution (have I injected enough narrative metaphors for your liking?)…and so there are always backup plans, for the most part.

So, narrative musings aside, I’ve run into some issues regarding access to the digital materials I need, particularly the digitized Norwegian texts. Now, the wonderful people at the National Library of Norway have granted me access to their database, despite my firm planting here in Michigan, and this has been such a huge asset for me in NOT having to create my own from-scratch corpus (which is one of those things that takes weeks and weeks and weeks…). However, copyrighting is an important thing, but it also can limit access to materials. And thus, some of the material I can only access online, meaning a lot of manual searching (again, one of those things that can take weeks and week and weeks…). But not to fear, because I said, there are always backup plans. I’m currently working with a tool from the National Library, the Ngram beta tool built by Språkbanken, to search the database of digitized texts taken from NB (that stands for Nasjonalbiblioteket, your Norwegian word of the day) for my national identity markers. There are a few snags with that too, regarding some statistical discrepancies and counts that I am a bit confused by, and my not-so-savvy knowledge of stats catching me in the leg. But I am working through those (with the help of the folks at NB, who patiently answer all of my emails) to make sure I can get the data I need. Again, the great thing about using a digital medium for this work is that there is always a backup plan – I can reduce the scope of my searches (likely to markers of intangible heritage, as this project focuses upon cultural heritage first and foremost) so that I can do manual searches for the most accurate counts if it comes down to that. All of these snags will be highlighted in my methods section of my website, so you can see the process I went through.

All of this highlights some really interesting questions and issues dealing with access to digitized cultural heritage material, the many different tools for this kind of research, and the reliability of different tools. I’m able to successfully find the resources I need because of digitization, and I am afforded different modes of access and different sources of access because this material has been digitized. The wealth of tools available allows me different options for working with my data, which can provide a variety of different epistemological perspectives on interpretation. Most importantly, the digitization preserves material for future generations and for future quests for learning. Preserving these oral histories and collective memories and written knowledges continues the flow of learning and study of other forgotten or inaccessible materials.

What does this mean for my project? It means that even though I have hit some snags, my main aim has not changed – I see snags not as setbacks, but as ways to continue to explore more options and digital tools that look at ways of preserving and examining questions regarding identity. So at this time, I am going to continue the data gathering phase with my aim to finish that and create my visualizations this week, and from here on out, I am on the home stretch to building a site that examines what it means to be Norwegian.