Machine Reading the Primeros Libros / Hannah Alpert-Adams

By delving into the material processes of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), as well as the history of OCR tools, this article shows how the statistical models used for automatic transcription can embed cultural biases into the output. This article is particularly relevant to multilingual projects, as it unpacks the effects of OCR software that generally assumes monolingual and orhthographically simple documents.

“Early modern printed books pose particular challenges for automatic transcription: uneven inking, irregular orthographies, radically multilingual texts. As a result, modern efforts to transcribe these documents tend to produce the textual gibberish commonly known as “dirty OCR” (Optical Character Recognition). This noisy output is most frequently seen as a barrier to access for scholars interested in the computational analysis or digital display of transcribed documents. This article, however, proposes that a closer analysis of dirty OCR can reveal both historical and cultural factors at play in the practice of automatic transcription. To make this argument, it focuses on tools developed for the automatic transcription of the Primeros Libros collection of sixteenth century Mexican printed books. By bringing together the history of the collection with that of the OCR tool, it illustrates how the colonial history of these documents is embedded in, and transformed by, the statistical models used for automatic transcription. It argues that automatic transcription, itself a mechanical and practical tool, also has an interpretive effect on transcribed texts that can have practical consequences for scholarly work.”

Alpert-Abrams, Hannah. 2016. “Machine Reading the Primeros Libros.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 10 (4).

“To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing”: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives

This article reports on interviews conducted with South Asian American educators regarding their responses to the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), an independent, nonprofit, community-based organization that operates the websites and The article reports on several emergent themes: the absence of or difficulty in accessing historical materials related to South Asian Americans before the emergence of SAADA; the affective and ontological impacts of discovering SAADA for the first time; the affective impact of SAADA on respondents’ South Asian American students; and SAADA’s ability to promote feelings of inclusion both within the South Asian American ethnic community and in the larger society. Together, these responses suggest the ways in which one community archives counters the symbolic annihilation of the community it serves and instead produces feelings of what the authors term “representational belonging.” The article concludes by exploring the epistemological, ontological, and social levels of representational belonging.

Caswell, M., Cifor, M., & Ramirez, M. H. (2016). “To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing”: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives. The American Archivist, 79(1), 56–81.

Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression

In this video, Noble discusses Google’s harmful and dangerous search engine results –especially when searching terms such as “girls” and “Black girls” – and how these searches reify oppressive narratives about identity markers. She describes her methodology for collecting and analyzing these search engine results, which are dealing with advertisement algorithms and what narratives are seen as “profitable.”
Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2016. “Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression.” Presented at the Personal Democracy Forum 2016, New York City.

From Archives to Action: Zines, Participatory Culture, and Community Engagement in Asian America

Honma describes the use of zines in an undergraduate classroom to promote alternative pedagogies and incorporate critical inquiry and research skills. By bringing zines into his classroom as research materials, Honma provides an example of how to use archival materials and research to make connections between community archives and community action, and help students view themselves as embedded in larger community histories. This article discusses the framework and assignments incorporated into the course, and the larger impacts of this framework for considering archives as dynamic and contested sites of meaning.

Honma, T. (2016).”From Archives to Action: Zines, Participatory Culture, and Community Engagement in Asian America.” Radical Teacher, 105, 33–43.

Understanding by Design Framework

This resource provides an overview of the Understanding by Design Framework for planning curriculum, assessment and instruction activities. Central ideas to this method are assessment and teaching, and designing curriculum based on desired learning outcomes and mechanisms for evaluating their success.
McTighe, Jay, and Grant Wiggins. 2012. “Understanding By Design Framework.” ASCD. 2012.

Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives

Caswell provides a framework for combating white supremacy, homophobia, and other harmful and persistent perspectives in the information science classroom. Through this framework, she and her students work to recognize the biases in IS and challenge those biases. This article also provides slides about practical steps and paradigmatic shifts to dismantling white supremacy in the archives that can be incorporated in a classroom or other teaching and learning environments.

Caswell, Michelle. 2017. “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives.” The Library Quarterly 87 (3): 222–35.

Wampum, Sequoyan, and Story: Decolonizing the Digital Archive

Archives have a long and troubled history as imperialist endeavors. Scholars of digital archives can begin to decolonize the archive by asking, how is knowledge imparted, in what media, by whom, and for what ends? Drawing on a six-year-long ethnohistorical study of Cherokee language and writing, I explore these questions and analyze the epistemological work of wampum, Sequoyan, and digital storytelling. I argue that decolonial digital archives have built into them the instrumental, historical, and cultural meanings of whatever media they include. To be understood in and on their terms, these media need to be contextualized within the notions of time, social practices, stories, and languages that lend them meaning.

Cushman, E. (2013). “Wampum, Sequoyan, and Story: Decolonizing the Digital Archive.” College English, 76(2), 115–135.