Encoding Culture: Building a Digital Archive Based on Traditional Ojibwe Teachings / Timothy Powell and Larry P. Aitken

This article addresses how the advent of technology can allow for the inclusion of indigenous stories in American literature history. Thus, this article is rooted in the assumption that may become a part of American literary history.  It is the hope that through this integration of Native American culture through oral traditions and artifacts that they can no longer excluded from the study of American literature.

“The advent of digital technology is undoubtedly changing our understanding of the origins and story lines of American literary history, as Randy Bass suggests. This interpretive shift offers a critically important opportunity to think more carefully about the place of Native American expressive culture as an integral, albeit long-neglected, part of “American literature.” While most anthologies in the field now include an opening section on indigenous origins—irresponsibly reducing thousands of years of precolonial storytelling to a few pages—the selections are invariably limited to stories that fit within the parameters of the white printed page. Rather than reviewing this history of exclusion yet again, I will assume here that the field is ready to acknowledge that indigenous stories are indeed part of American literary history, whether they appear in the form of the oral tradition, rock art, narratives woven in wampum belts, or pictographic images inscribed on birch bark. This may be an overly generous assumption. Nonetheless, my point is to demonstrate how digital technology can be utilized to extend the formal boundaries of the field and to create exciting new interpretive opportunities by taking seriously, at long last, the idea that the Ojibwe “epistemology of beginnings” is an intellectually valid interpretive paradigm. In doing so, the Gibagadinamaagoom digital archive, whose name means “to bring to life, to sanction, to give authority,” devotes itself to sanctioning the intellectual sovereignty of indigenous wisdom carriers, so that the question of whether American literary history begins with the Puritans or Columbus becomes moot as we set off in search of much deeper origins, wondering whether we are “worthy to translate wind” or to record “knowledge [that existed] long before humans.”

Powell, Timothy, and Larry P. Aitken. 2011. “Encoding Culture: Building a Digital Archive Based on Traditional Ojibwe Teachings.” In The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age, edited by Andrew Jewell and Amy Earhart. Editorial Theory and Literary Criticism. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/idx/e/etlc/9362034.0001.001/1:5/--american-literature-scholar-in-the-digital-age?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1#5.3.

Dos and Don’ts on Designing for Accessibility / Karwai Pun

The dos and don’ts of designing for accessibility are general guidelines, best design practices for making services accessible in government. Currently, there are six different posters in the series that cater to users from these areas: low vision, D/deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia, motor disabilities, users on the autistic spectrum and users of screen readers.

Pun, Karwai. 2016. “Dos and Don’ts on Designing for Accessibility.” Gov.UK. Accessibility. 2016. https://accessibility.blog.gov.uk/2016/09/02/dos-and-donts-on-designing-for-accessibility/.

Against Cleaning / Katie Rawson and Trevor Muñoz

[T]here is not one single understanding of what “data cleaning” means. Many times the specifics of “data cleaning” are not described anywhere but reside in the general professional practices, materials, personal histories, and tools of the researchers. That we employ obscuring language like “data cleaning” should be a strong invitation to scrutinize, perhaps reimagine, and almost certainly rename this part of our practice.

Rawson, Katie, and Trevor Muñoz. 2016. “Against Cleaning.” Curating Menus. July 6, 2016. http://www.curatingmenus.org/articles/against-cleaning/.

“Free as in sexist?” Free Culture and the Gender Gap / Joseph Reagle

This article is particularly valuable when discussing stereotypical and default modes of collaboration and communication within technical communities. Reagle focuses particularly on gender, but the framework laid out here also has resonance for technical development involving other underrepresented communities.

“Despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement’s gender balance is as skewed (or more so) as that of the computing culture from which it arose. Based on the collection and analysis of discourse on gender and sexism within this movement over a six–year period. I suggest three possible causes: (a) some geek identities can be narrow and unappealing; (b) open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people; and, (c) the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice.”

Reagle, Joseph. 2012. “‘Free as in Sexist?’ Free Culture and the Gender Gap.” First Monday 18 (1). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4291.

Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery / Latanya Sweeney

A Google search for a person’s name, such as “Trevon Jones”, may yield a personalized ad for public records about Trevon that may be neutral, such as “Looking for Trevon Jones?”, or may be suggestive of an arrest record, such as “Trevon Jones, Arrested?”. This writing investigates the delivery of these kinds of ads by Google AdSense using a sample of racially associated names and finds statistically significant discrimination in ad delivery based on searches of 2184 racially associated personal names across two websites. First names, assigned at birth to more black or white babies, are found predictive of race (88% black, 96% white), and those assigned primarily to black babies, such as DeShawn, Darnell and Jermaine, generated ads suggestive of an arrest in 81 to 86 percent of name searches on one website and 92 to 95 percent on the other, while those assigned at birth primarily to whites, such as Geoffrey, Jill and Emma, generated more neutral copy: the word “arrest” appeared in 23 to 29 percent of name searches on one site and 0 to 60 percent on the other. On the more ad trafficked website, a black-identifying name was 25% more likely to get an ad suggestive of an arrest record. A few names did not follow these patterns. All ads return results for actual individuals and ads appear regardless of whether the name has an arrest record in the company’s database. The company maintains Google received the same ad text for groups of last names (not first names), raising questions as to whether Google’s technology exposes racial bias.

Sweeney, L. (2013). Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery. Communications of the ACM, 56(5), 44–54. arXiv.org version available online.

ON NONSCALABILITY: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales / Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

This heavily theoretical piece provides a vital counterweight to the pressure for “scale” in technological projects, and can give cultural heritage project managers a useful vocabulary for questioning demands to follow tightly regulated software development processes when it is not appropriate for community-driven, humanistic work. Tsing shows that while “scalability” is defined as projects that can become larger without changing the nature of the project — expand without changing — such scalability is possible “only if project elements do not form transformative relationships that might change the project as elements are added.” Tsing then highlights the fact that those transformative relationships are necessary for the emergence of diversity, and powerfully argues that meaningful diversity is “diversity that might change things” — and that the model of “scalability” is antithetical to meaningful diversity.  These theoretical concepts can be applied to almost any digital community archive project.

“When small projects can become big without changing the nature of the project, we call that design feature “scalability.” Scalability is a confusing term because it seems to mean something broader, the ability to use scale; but that is not the technical meaning of the term. Scalable projects are those that can expand without changing. My interest is in the exclusion of biological and cultural diversity from scalable designs. Scalability is possible only if project elements do not form transformative relationships that might change the project as elements are added. But transformative relationships are the medium for the emergence of diversity. Scalability projects banish meaningful diversity, which is to say, diversity that might change things.

Scalability is not an ordinary feature of nature. Making projects scalable takes a lot of work. Yet we take scalability so much for granted that scholars often imagine that, without scalable research designs, we would be stuck in tiny microworlds, unable to scale up. To “scale up,” indeed, is to rely on scalability—to change the scale without changing the framework of knowledge or action. There are alternatives for changing world history locally and for telling big stories alongside small ones, and “nonscalability theory” is an alternative for conceptualizing the world. But before considering these alternatives, let me return to that familiar domain for experience with scalability: digital technology.”

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2012. “ON NONSCALABILITY The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18 (3): 505–24. https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1630424.

Power to the People: Documenting Police Violence in Cleveland / Stacey Williams and Jarrett Drake

Archivists have long recognized the inherent historical and social mandate in preserving stories of those who endured violence at the hands of the state. Examples of this responsibility include archivists who recorded public tribunals in post-apartheid South Africa, documented stories of Japanese Americans forced into internment camps during World War II, and acquired collections of 1960s civil rights activists who experienced military intervention while fighting to end segregation. These endeavors align with the historian Howard Zinn’s call for archivists to “compile a whole new world of documentary material” about the lived experiences of marginalized populations and communities. Drawing upon Zinn’s charge as well as scholarly literature around community archives, social justice, and human rights, this article describes the joint effort of community organizers and professional archivists who collaborated to establish a community archive for victims of police violence in Cleveland, Ohio. The archive, A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, provides a sustainable, autonomous means for Cleveland residents to share their first-hand accounts of police violence in the region. The authors will narrate the archive’s conception and development as well as advance the archive as a post-custodial model for other grassroots organizations protesting various forms of state violence.

Williams, Stacie M, and Jarrett M Drake. 2017. “Power to the People: Documenting Police Violence in Cleveland.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 2. http://libraryjuicepress.com/journals/index.php/jclis/article/view/33.

digitization: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should / Tara Robertson

In this blog post, Robertson takes a critical look at Reveal Digital’s work to digitize On Our Backs (OOB), a lesbian feminist porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. She points out that there are ethical issues with digitizing and making print collections like OOB available online and that Reveal Digital needs more robust ethical guidelines and take-down policies. Robertson also emphasizes the importance of working with people who were featured in OOB and appear in the collection, citing their right to be forgotten.

Robertson, Tara. 2016. “Digitization: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should.” Tara Robertson. March 20, 2016. http://tararobertson.ca/2016/oob/.