This is the launch post for Zach Francis’s 2019-2020 CHI fellowship project. Click to check out the MSU Digital Archaeology Collections website! At the beginning of this year, I knew that I wanted to do something to bring the archaeological collections held by the Michigan State anthropology department into the digital world. The main motivation for this was my previous work developing a metadata scheme to describe archaeological heritage assets being held by the department. Using this metadata scheme, I cataloged the archaeological heritage into a Kora digital repository which could provide an alternative and more accessible content management system than our paper records. The goal for this CHI project was to bring this digital repository into a website accessible to the public.
There were two ways I considered bringing our collections online. The first option was to download all of the data from Kora and put it into a repository. A website could then be built upon this repository which would take data and images from the local repository and put them on the website. This is known as a static website. This is a relatively easy process and would have allowed for more effort to be put into designing the website layout and the presentation/interpretation of content. The second option was to leave all the data in Kora on a separate server which I would take data from and display on a website. This is known as a dynamic website. With this option the records, data, and images are not local and require communication with servers. I decided to go with option 2.
Communicating directly with the Kora digital repository that I built requires interacting with Kora’s Application Program Interface (API). In order to communicate with this API, I had to read API documentation specific to Kora. This required learning at least the basics of PHP. PHP is a versatile programming language that focuses on these types of server communications. Despite my modest experience in digital humanities, however, learning how to navigate these API interactions proved to be the bulk of my CHI fellowship project. Going into this project, we knew this was likely to be the case which is why the design aspect of this site was not a priority. The main goal was to get records from Kora to show up on a website, and this would hopefully result in the development of a search page, a browsing page, and a full record page.
I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish, but I will come clean now and say that not all of my goals were accomplished. My full record page correctly displays data for specific records, and my search works when looking for specific Kora ID numbers related to records. A search for Kora IDs is not very useful though, and the browser page is nonfunctional. And there is work within the digital repository that needs to be finished to make all records within the repository available. Not to mention the other records that must be entered into the repository to finish digitizing the collection. Fixing these issues and features will take a significant investment of time. Even so, learning to build the initial structure has made me feel like a real programmer, though I am sure more experienced programmers would feel a little nauseous reading my code. Luckily, with PHP you cannot easily see my code on your web browser since it is all processed server-side.
I am a first year PhD student at Sheffield, England researching medieval glass. I want to produce reference material for myself to use initially with an idea to make it public by the end of the project, with images of stained glass, descriptions, dates, and other information. My first thought was a parer archive, which I could take with me to refer to when I am looking for material in archaeological stores. This led to the idea of a digital catalogue and then onto a website, which I am thinking might be more useful. Could you give me some advice please about how best to tackle this, bearing in mind that it will be used just as a tool to start with, rather like taking a
dictionary on a French holiday. As it will be a reference tool that may (but may not) develop into a more accessible record I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time on it; would you advise the sort of website that you have produced, bearing this in mind? Any thoughts welcome.