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.

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 (blog). July 6, 2016. http://www.curatingmenus.org/articles/against-cleaning/.

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 (blog). March 20, 2016. http://tararobertson.ca/2016/oob/.

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). http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/10/4/000268/000268.html.

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.

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.

Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness

The “information wants to be free” meme was born some 20 years ago from the free and open source software development community. In the ensuing decades, information freedom has merged with debates over open access, digital rights management, and intellectual property rights. More recently, as digital heritage has become a common resource, scholars, activists, technologists, and local source communities have generated critiques about the extent of information freedom. This article injects both the histories of collecting and the politics of information circulation in relation to indigenous knowledge into this debate by looking closely at the history of the meme and its cultural and legal underpinnings. This approach allows us to unpack the meme’s normalized assumptions and gauge whether it is applicable across a broad range of materials and cultural variances.

Christen, K. A. (2012). “Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness.” International Journal of Communication, 6(0), 24.

Indigenous Knowledge, Intellectual Property, Libraries and Archives: Crises of Access, Control and Future Utility

Anderson, Jane. 2005. “Indigenous Knowledge, Intellectual Property, Libraries and Archives: Crises of Access, Control and Future Utility.” Australian Academic & Research Libraries 36 (2): 83–94. https://doi.org/10.1080/00048623.2005.10721250.

Active Collections

The Active Collections website serves as both a community of practice and a core reading. The website’s goal is to “generate discussion and action across the history museum field to develop a new approach to collections, one that is more effective and sustainable.” The Active Collections Manifesto is an excellent place to start, but the website is also rich with case studies, roundtable reports, and a proposed research agenda. Active Collections asks: “Out of all the objects in your collections, can you only think of a handful that could be used in transformative exhibitions and programming? Are you slowly being buried alive under an avalanche of objects that only sort of serve your mission?”

Active Collections was also published as a text:

Woods, Elizabeth, Rainey Tisdale, and Trevor Jones, eds. 2018. Active Collections. New York: Routledge.