Digital Curation for Social Justice: Strategic Approaches to Metadata as Nexus for Collaboration Between Archives and Digital Humanists
The University of Toledo, United States of America
Research in public history and the digital humanities has extensively relied on rich collection-and item-level metadata needed to curate digital collections in institutional repositories. Well before the arrival of digital technologies, social historians since the 1960s had extensively perused archival collections related to labor movements, woman's suffrage, disability history, underrepresented and marginalized ethnic, racial, and gender groups. With the help of computers since the 1960s, social historians were also turning to computer-generated data as an additional tool for analysis, teaching, and writing. In the digital environment, the relationship of archivists, digital curators, and digital humanists has not only thrived but has led to crossover (transdisciplinary) work. While digital humanists began creating informal digital archives, professional archivists and digital curators began exploring the digital humanities for new perspectives on curatorial practice. Virtual exhibitions (thematic hypertextual representations) have emerged as a tool for curating public history, humanities, and eventually scientific topics.
Metadata, which had been the focus of cataloguing, has gained greater visibility and relevance to the emerging digital curation landscape and the information architectures evolving alongside these developments. The new role for metadata has become a vital component in the nexus for collaboration across institutions as well as data preservation, content migration, and knowledge organization. Via OAI-PMH and Linked Data, collection- and item-level metadata have become accessible through discovery layers and harvesters such as the Digital Public Library of America, ArchiveGrid, and Google Scholar. The same metadata has also become instrumental in visualizing historical, humanities, and other scientific data for computer-assisted analysis and hermeneutic work. This presentation will focus on selected digital curation projects focused on social justice-related topics and the role of metadata in supporting digital humanities scholarship.
As Data, As Performance: Humanities Content Twice-Behaved
Library of Congress, United States of America
We are in a data moment: the quantified self; the computational turn; the data revolution; the datafication of everything. This paper explores the designation and use of humanities content “as data”—text as data, collections as data, and the like—as an interpretive, performative act. Viewing, thinking about, or using a something or set of somethings “as data” implies both an equivalence and a transformation, a swapping of conceptual overlays or frameworks that may or may not transpose our something(s) into something(s)-else. But can we swap the container, the wrapper, without changing its contents? Its contents’ meanings? How does “as data” change things?
Dramatist Richard Schechner makes a strikingly straightforward and useful distinction between “is performance” and “as performance”—two ways to think about performance in the larger world it inhabits. In an early version of his foundational textbook, for example, Schechner writes that “any event, action, item, or behavior may be examined ‘as’ performance. Anything at all may be studied ‘as’ performance.” Useful definitions of performance come from a variety of sources, most broadly “language in use” from Saussure and “discourse in practice” from Foucault. In the field of performance studies, which brings together theater and anthropology, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett identifies performance as “embodied practice and event” while Schechner’s definition is “behavior that is twice-behaved.” “Performance isn’t ‘in’ anything,’ he writes, ‘but ‘between.’” All of these definitions acknowledge the meaning in the doing, in the making, in the sharing.
Here I use “as performance” to think about how “as data” changes things. Is humanities content already data by default, or does the act of framing it “as data” make it twice-behaved? While the title of the first “Collections as Data” IMLS grant, “Always Already Computational,” suggests that data-ness is inherent, the tendency of the Santa Barbara Statement it produced is more aspirational: “The concept of collections as data emerges at—and is grounded by—a particular moment in the recent history of cultural heritage institutions… [that] have rarely built digital collections or designed access with the aim to support computational use. Thinking about collections as data signals an intention to change that.” Surely in the context where such a conscious change is needed, “as data” content becomes mutable, and therefore contingent, transformative, and performative.
Thus, at this extended moment of the computational turn, in our current digital-scholarly ecosystem, this paper will take up an exploration of prepared humanities data as twice-behaved, analyzing some of the concrete changes that are rendered upon humanities content when it is transformed for computation, or potential computation, in research settings. Of necessity this includes the creation of item-specific metadata as well. Drawing inspiration from critical code studies as well as performance studies, examples for close readings of humanities content “as data, as performance” include Visualizing English Print, The American Philosophical Society’s Open Data initiative, The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America newspaper project, and Smithsonian X 3D.
Presence and Absence with Derived Historical Data: The Enslaved Community Owned and Sold by the Maryland Province Jesuits
Michigan State University, United States of America
In 1838 Thomas Mulledy, S.J. signed his name to an agreement selling the 275 enslaved persons who resided on Jesuit-owned estates in Southern Maryland to Louisiana. The sale served as the culmination of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus’s fraught experience with slaveholding in the colonial and early national period. While much historical work has been written on Jesuit slaveholding, that writing has primarily focused on the implications for the religious community and the moral universe in which these men made their decisions about slavery. Thus far, however, no scholar has studied the enslaved people themselves.
My work in the Jesuit Plantation Project <http://jesuitplantationproject.org> focuses on the lives and experiences of the enslaved, rather than on their Jesuit owners. Focusing on the enslaved community itself makes this project ideally suited for digital methods. With an eye to the events and relationships that formed the warp and woof of the daily lives of this enslaved community, I have worked to identify more than 1,000 individual enslaved people present in the documentary evidence and to situate them within their families and larger community. In processing and representing this archival research, I employ linked open data and an array of techniques to visualize the entire community of enslaved people and their relationships to one another across space and time. These approaches allow me both to focus on the distinct individuality of each enslaved person and to have the capacity to pull back to grasp the community in aggregate, noting trends and changes in their experiences and relationships during their time in Maryland.
Working with these digital methodologies opens up a host of important questions about their appropriate application to the history of enslavement and the representation of the enslaved. Linked open data principles demand that every individual be represented by a stable uniform resource indicator—a space on the web that is their own, where historians can gather information about their lives. Nonetheless, we are faced with the difficulty of providing a responsible point of entry that allows visitors to grapple with the representation of an individual and the hundreds of others who shared their lives and experiences. Social network analysis and visualization offers some promise, but also raises a host of difficulties that I will explore in this paper: What does it mean to apply social network analysis measures to a community that is bounded and has very little control over their inclusion/movement? With a significantly incomplete data set, what is the threshold at which social network analysis makes sense? What are the appropriate visualizations to provide an entry point to this medium-sized collection of data? How can we mitigate against erasing the significance of these individuals in an effort to provide an aggregated view of their community? How can historians best integrate these techniques with traditional narrative interpretation to provide users—both members of the interested public and scholars—with a rich understanding of the lives of an (this) enslaved community?
What Are We Doing With Our Data?
1Digital Frontiers, United States of America; 2Arizona State University, United States of America; 3Texas A&M University, United States of America
Despite the 2011 mandate by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities for funded projects to develop plans for sharing project data, the embrace of open data in the digital humanities has been uneven at best. A 2015 analysis of 400 successful proposals conducted by this project team found fewer than 6% indicated a commitment to open data. While cultural memory institutions increasingly look to Linked Open Data to make their data widely accessible, the reluctance on the part of digital humanists to adopt this technology has the potential to limit the discoverability and usability of DH data in the semantic web. This paper presents updated findings from our ongoing research into trends in open data praxis in digital humanities. Through a FOIA request, the project team obtained all of the Data Management Plans from NEH-ODH funded projects through the 2018 grant cycle, and conducted text analysis on this corpus to determine whether and how data from these projects is being preserved and shared. Our classification of funded projects according to their commitment to produce or apply linked and/or open data reveals a strikingly small subset. We identify projects which purport to produce linked open data, and determine whether they have fulfilled their promise, and to what effect. Finally, we identify potential barriers - social, institutional, and technological - to the implementation of linked and open data technologies, and we suggest next steps for research and programming to address a growing gap between projects situated in humanities departments and those in cultural heritage institutions. By examining trends in data management, preservation, and sharing as presented by Data Management Plans for funded projects, we offer a forecast of what a linked, open future for digital humanities might offer, and what hurdles we as a community must overcome to get there.