Digital Review: Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”

Screen capture of Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race,” taken 2020

Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/performingarchive/index. Created and maintained by Claremont Center for Digital Humanities. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/performingarchive/acknowledgements. Reviewed February 2020.

The Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race” project emerged in 2018 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This project serves as a digital archive for the photographic works of Edward S. Curtis, and as a virtual exhibit space for work that responds to Curtis’ exploitation of Native American tribes. This interpretive work questions concepts of permission and consent for the Native peoples in question and serves as a meta commentary on the digital humanities.

The site features over 2,500 digitized archival items from seven institutions. Users can search these items using keywords or use the site’s visualization tool to explore how items interconnect with one another. These tools are immediately accessible, but the site’s layout encourages users to read the “Introduction” page before embarking on their personalized journey. The “Introduction” page gives an overview of the project’s background and goals, then details how to use the site most effectively. While you can search at any time, there are “paths” that lead to different items and exhibits. The user is put on a pre-set path through a few exhibits, putting the most critical and contextual work first. By clicking on the links inside the exhibit texts, the user can deviate from the set path to explore new items and interpretive pieces. This method exploration allows the user to dive a bit deeper into the incredible volume of content available within this project.

This site’s content is extensive because the creators have allowed the public to contribute their research and interpretation of Curtis’ work using a review process to control what occupies their site. These interpretive pieces can be found using the visualization tool and the search bar, leading to topics from YouTube to Curtis’ conceptions of race. If a user isn’t quite ready to publish their own research, they can use the comments function to give feedback and input without investing as much time as engaging in original research. In these ways, the project welcomes all people to become a part of this project. The site also features resources for working with Native stakeholders, and plans to contact Native peoples for future work, emphasizing the need for their input and consent in projects dealing in Native history. By showing their practices clearly, the project welcomes Native users, reassuring them that while Curtis was exploitative, modern creators and historians can and should be better. This project certainly acheives these goals.

Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race” is completely transparent in their methodology, which preserves the trustworthy image of this initiative. The design and methods are incredibly strong, with the only drawback to the site being the visualization tool’s loading time, which at worst can take over a minute. The user can choose how they want to interact and contribute, which is a huge plus for engagement. This type of project has no equivalent in the physical world, making use of online tools for increased engagement and thoughtful interpretation. Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race” serves as proof of what Digital Humanities at its best is capable of.

Digital Review: Musical Passage

Courtesy of Musical Passage.Org

Musical Passage. http://musicalpassage.org/#. Created by Laurent Dubois, David Garner, and Mary Caton Lingold. http://musicalpassage.org/#about. Reviewed February 16, 2020.

The Musical Passage is a digital project that offers a musical transcription of early African diasporic music by enslaved Africans undertaken by slave ships to the West Indies during the Atlantic slave trade. The site also presents historical information relating to the Middle Passage as it simultaneously entwines the musical reference to the narrative. The project gives an interpretation of a rare artifact obtained by Hans Sloane’s 1707 Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers, and Jamaica containing musical pieces during this historical period. The Musical Passage offers audio renditions aimed at reconstructing the sound, rhythm, and musical composition and arrangement to these early musical masterpieces. The focus resides in decoding and dissecting five musical pieces of which differ in musical style, arrangement, and tempo. Additionally, each piece of music whether instrumental or vocal gives a supplementary perception of the backstory of the songs and a conception of the instruments used at the time.

The home page of the site opens with a digital image along with metadata of Hans Sloane’s document which contains the earliest transcription of African Caribbean music as Sloane interpreted and invites the visitor to listen to the musical arrangements by clicking on the play icon. The music incorporates ambient sound of the ocean tide as the music plays giving the audience a feeling of Caribbean ambience. Users can navigate three options near the play icon which include tabs explore, read, and about. Clicking on the explore tab does not bring about additional information. As a matter of fact, nothing changes on the home page when clicking the exploration tab. Secondly, clicking the read tab will allow the user to navigate through a digital design similar to ArcGIS StoryMaps using HTML5, CSS, and libraries jQuery, Bootstrap, and FullPage.js.

The read option allows for three portions of extensive informative history concerning Han Sloane’s artifact, a book entitled Voyage to the Islands, the Middle Passage, and the history of five pieces of seventeenth century sheet music.The first portion describes how Sloane traveled to the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica, and observed the cultural practices of the enslaved African population in addition to his study of the island’s ecology. During Sloane’s time in Jamaica, he cataloged plants and animals on the island while collecting cultural artifacts and scientific specimen which can now be seen at the British Museum. The second portion is comprised of historical content of the Middle Passage and its effects on enslaved Africans. The passage depicts the cultural influence brought from their native Africa to include practices, rituals, customs, and music which influences present day vocal and instrumental sounds attached to the expression of emotion.

Finally, the third portion contextualizes the history, musical notation, engravings of some of the earliest depictions of instruments, and the song interpretation of each musical piece. The selection clarifies that the rendition of the music is by the project’s inference as it is difficult to know the precision of what the music originally sounded like. The passage invites their users to contribute their own musical interpretations for the purpose of inspiring future improvisations. Furthermore, towards the end of the narration, there is a solitary assessment of the five musical compositions illustrating differences in notation, melody, musical scale, vocal pattern, and lyric analysis. The metadata includes an image of Hans Sloane, natural history engravings of mollusk shells from his book, an engraving of three instruments he collected (no longer in existence), and five images of one bar of music for Angola, Papa, Koromanti 1, Koromanti 2, and Koromanti 3.

The about tab redirects the user to learn more about the project, its mission, project design details, musical responses to the project, collaborations, biographical information on the project’s creators, acknowledgments, a digital humanities bibliography, and further readings. The page is very detailed in its mission for the project in addition to the remaining about topics. Moreover, the project encourages its users to give feedback on their efforts or contribute further interpretations on the musical material. It cites forms of contact through twitter, their website, or through email. It also recommends that the user stream the recordings through Soundcloud. The musical response paragraph intrigued me the most as it provided additional metadata through the use of YouTube to show a video of a group of musicians invited by the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston to give a live improvisation of this music in front of an audience.

All things considered; the digital project Musical Passage is a great project! It was enjoyable learning about the inception of music and its origins considering the influences it provides to the evolution of music as it exists today. It rooted from unfortunate events by way of the Middle Passage and yet through so much pain and suffering, enslaved Africans were able to create and beautify the art of music as a form of storytelling. The diffusion of their African culture and traditions using music immortalized their place as trail blazers and pioneers of musical expression and demonstration. The project itself embellished this information providing both visual and audio support to transport the user to seventeenth century Jamaica. The goal in these digital projects are to inform and supply a deeper appreciation for the history produced by their work and this project did just that.

Digital Review: Bracero History Archive

Bracero History Archive. http://braceroarchive.org/. Created as Co-Principle Investigator by Sharon Leon and Tom Scheinfeldt. . http://braceroarchive.org/about. Reviewed January 26, 2020.

The Bracero History Archive is a digital collection of images, documents, oral histories, and artifacts collected to record primary sources, evidence, and data pertaining to the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was a sequence of diplomatic legislation between U.S and Mexico, which was originally instituted by an American executive order in 1942, to abate the issue of labor shortages during World War II. The program’s labor contracts for Mexican immigrants seeking temporary work in the U.S., mostly related to U.S. agriculture. The program provided an opportunity for Mexican immigrants to seek a better life, yet over the course of the program’s existence, it was apparent that the United States government exploited their great opportunity by oppression and mistreatment. This digital archive provides a voice for those Bracero workers and their families.

This digital archive provides 3,209 total items, under the archive tab, which is divided by five sub-tabs that present an option of images, documents, oral histories, contributed items, or all items. Users can further navigate the site to explore teaching and historical information regarding the Bracero program. Additional options exist to allow the user to learn more about the digital archive and its mission. The site provides supplementary information regarding their site and virtual partners that contribute to this digital archive. The metadata includes texts of personal statements that contextualize the history behind the program and how it affected each individual and their families. The images tab provides digital metadata to include detailed descriptive images, scanned labor contracts, paycheck stubs, work permits, and items such as postcards.

In addition to each metadata, it provides bibliographic citations and a list of keywords related to the Bracero History Archive. The oral histories tab provides personal testimony by audio regarding Bracero workers and/or their families recalling stories of the program. In most of the audio recordings, the interview is conducted in Spanish. Although most items have thorough metadata, the audio recordings do not include description, text, creator, or a date for the interview. There is no option for translation, either through text or audio, for the interviews conducted in Spanish which might prove challenging for a non-Spanish speaking user of the site. The oral interviews that are conducted in English do give a date and time through audio but lack separate descriptive metadata. The interviews are at times difficult to hear due to background noise and separate conversations happening close to the interview.

This site is open access and does provide a URL for users to gain access to the archive’s metadata if they so wish to contribute to the archive. It produces resources and video tutorials giving step-by-step information on how to navigate Omeka providing information on how to effectively use and add to the digital archive. Additionally, it provides information on how to effectively scan and upload digital images, documents, and other relevant artifacts that contribute to the history of the Bracero program. The resources tab provides information on how to conduct an interview, what questions to ask, a checklist for your interview, and files and documents for authoritative release.

The Bracero History Archive was a 2010 winner at the National Council on Public History and awarded the Public History Project Award. The site has much potential and the idea structure behind the archive is worthwhile, yet, it seems not much has been updated since possibly 2010. Navigation is easy but rudimentary in terms of deficiency regarding metadata and historical information. The history tab only gives a giant bibliography and does not interpret or give much background information on its collection. The site should acknowledge more visibly that it is not actively curated or updated anymore.

All things considered, the Bracero History Archive is sitting on a gold mine with these great interviews, documents, images, and artifacts within its digital archive. There is a great need for labor in adding metadata to many of its items. It could also benefit from a digital make-over to be more aesthetically appealing. Maps and other visual aids would be more helpful in dispensing a geographical idea of designated areas in the country where bracero camps existed and parts of the country where the law was invoked for labor necessities.

Digital Review: Wearing Gay History

Wearing Gay History. http://wearinggayhistory.com/. Created and maintained by Eric Gonzaba and Amanda Regan, http://wearinggayhistory.com/about. Reviewed Jan. 2020.

The Wearing Gay History project is self-described as “A Digital Archive of Historical LGBT T-Shirts,” hosting the queer t-shirt collections of 14 different American archives. The digital archive contains shirts from the last 40 years of queer history, and showcases them using Omeka, a platform friendly to digital archiving. The website puts LGBT history in context with itself, defeating coastal biases and exhibiting the diversity of the queer community.

The site features over 4000 items that have been divided into 21 collections based on their origin. Users can search the items by a list of preset tags, by collection, or by detailed search using keywords, locations, and other signifiers. The images are not uniform in background color or mannequin, but these details don’t detract from the cohesiveness of the archive. The metadata includes a description of the creator, date, place of origin, subject, and a few other fields. Each item includes a citation and information about copyright, which is a great help for those wanting to refer to these t-shirts in their work.

The site also includes interpretation of its collections in the form of digital exhibits. These exhibits use the digitized t-shirts to inform about queer history by placing these shirts in context. Many of these shirts require context that non-experts don’t understand without explanation. The page “The Ones that Laughed: Humor in the LGBT Community” explains the necessary context of humorous t-shirts. For example, a t-shirt reading “Homo-Depot” is a play on a scandal involving the department store Home-Depot. The site uses this t-shirt to inform its audience about the history of anti-LGBT workplace policies during the 21st century .

The goals listed on the “About” tab are congruent with the digital products featured on the site. To counter bicoastal  bias, the site includes a t-shirt map  that shows that the bulk of the digital archive comes from inland. To examine the connection between distinct identities is the site uses a tag system, many items having multiple tags which span across differing identities. The goal of increasing visibility for small archives is met by the map as well, shirts grouped according to their archive of origin. Making these collections accessible to the public, this site brings queer history to the forefront  of public consciousness. The site shows commitment to education by linking to other digital resources about the queer community, including articles and other digital archives.

While the site does well to reach the goals its set out, navigation and inclusivity serve as minor issues. While the tag system is helpful, the map is accessible, and there is a means of searching the shirts, the search feature is a bit intimidating, containing many fields that have little use for the non-expert. Additionally, this archive isn’t inclusive of many queer identities that have developed more recently. While the archive includes many examples of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender t-shirts, it excludes (though not intentionally) the other identities that the expanded LGBTQIA+ features. Because, these identities are only beginning to gain visibility, it’s understandable that this archive of the past 40 years of queer history would face difficulty keeping finding materials representing all identities.

In all, this digital archive achieves its many goals through its diversity of materials, interpretation, and ease of use. This archive has clearly been curated by queer historians with a queer audience in mind. It uplifts the queer community, and makes often forgotten tales available at your fingertips.