Designing Wireframes for a Digital Audio Collection

After compiling all of the research reports, the final component of planning the digital resource for my internship with Pavee Point was designing wireframes of the webpages. I am working with Pavee Point to set up the digital resource as part of their new website, scheduled to be completed in June.

Pavee Point’s new website will be on WordPress with a premium theme for nonprofits and churches called Benevolence:

Benevolence homepage

Before I started on the wireframe, my supervisor and I discussed what contextual information to include alongside the recordings and how we wanted to organize the interviews. Because some of the recordings are around 30 minutes long, we decided that it would make the recordings more accessible if I split them into clips (assuming the interview answers will still make sense if divided into sections). All of an interviewee’s clips will be grouped together alongside a photograph and small bio, if available.

Pavee Point already has a temporary link for the developing site, so I was able to use the work-in-progress website as a starting point for the wireframe.

Pavee Point homepage

I found a list on Mashable of recommended free wireframe tools. Based on the descriptions and images of the interfaces, I tried out two options on the list: Mockingbird and Cacoo. Though Mockingbird seemed easier to use, Cacoo had an option for taking screenshots of existing webpages. Because I wanted to build off of Pavee Point’s developing site, I decided to use Cacoo. It can be a little slow to respond at times, but overall, it worked pretty well.

I looked through the Benevolence theme to get a sense of the available layouts and their functionality. I selected four layouts: two options for a main page that displays or lists all of the interviewees, and two options for the individual pages with the audio recordings.

Main Page

The first option I selected for the main page is a grid layout:

Benevolence grid

I could not find this layout used on Pavee Point’s developing site, so I also picked a list layout that has been used on the developing site:

Pavee Point list

While drafting the two wireframes with these layouts, I realized it may be difficult to display each interviewee individually. There are about 35 interviewees in total, and even in the grid layout, which better maximizes space, it would be difficult to include that many boxes or list items on one page. Additionally, my supervisor pointed out that the grid layout might not work for WordPress “projects,” which is what this digital resource will be uploaded as. Someone with access to the Pavee Point WordPress account will have to test this out, so in the meantime, I decided to set up the grid layout wireframe as if each interviewee would be displayed individually.

Grid Main_Final crop

(The wireframes have been cropped because the original versions are too long to display all in one post.)

For the wireframe with the list layout, I designed each list item to include multiple interviewees.

List Main_Multiple_Final crop

Once we have a better sense of the functionality of these two layouts, we can determine which works best (or at all) for the main page and whether we’ll need to group multiple interviewees and their clips on a page.

Individual Pages

The Benevolence theme has a dynamic layout that would work really well for displaying the audio recordings, photographs, and contextual information.

Benevolence dynamic

These dynamic pages have tab options for photographs, video, audio, and files. We would probably just need ones for photographs and audio, but both these tabs allow for the display of multiple photographs or audio players.

Here is the (cropped) wireframe using this dynamic layout:

Dynamic Page_Single_Final crop

I made another version of the dynamic layout with multiple interviewees on one page:

Dynamic Page _Multiple_Final cropped

Because this dynamic layout was not yet used on the developing site, I was unsure if it would work with WordPress “projects,” so I also decided to create a wireframe based on a regular static page.

Static_Multiple_Final crop

I’m not sure yet how we would group interviewees, but the static layout and the second dynamic layout for multiple interviewees both offer a sense of how we could display multiple people’s interview clips all on one page.

The process of developing these wireframes helped me pinpoint some of the considerations for displaying the number and range of audio recordings in Pavee Point’s collection. After I’ve digitized at least a few of the tapes, we can upload some of the content and experiment with the functionality of these different layouts. For this internship, though, these wireframes act as a guide for the organization and display of Pavee Point’s set of audio interviews with Irish Travellers.

References

Smith, Grace. 2010. “10 Free Wireframing Tools for Designers.” Mashable, July 15. http://mashable.com/2010/07/15/wireframing-tools/.

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Planning a Digital Audio Collection

As stated in my previous internship blog post, the objectives for my internship include creating a bibliography of digital audio projects, compiling a report on digitization best practices, and researching appropriate metadata schema. After compiling the bibliography and listening to some of the tapes, I decided to implement the digital resource as part of my dissertation, and that informed my recommendations in the research reports.

Pavee Point plans to set up a new website in June, and this digital resource will be part of that site.

Bibliography of Audio Projects

I decided to compile the bibliography of audio projects before researching the logistical considerations for the digital resource because I wanted to see if there were any digital audio collections similar to the one we were envisioning. I was not able to find any digital audio projects that had the same kind of content as Pavee Point’s collection of cassette tapes, but researching a variety of audio collections helped me get a sense of the different ways we could display the recordings.

The closest audio project I could find in terms of content was “From the Road: Singing, Music, and the Settling of the Irish Travellers” (warning: the recording starts playing immediately when you open the link), which is a 40-minute audio documentary that alternates between traditional songs and interviews with Irish Travellers from Wexford, Limerick, Dublin, and London. The creator, Tyler Alderson, produced the project as part of a master’s dissertation in ethnomusicology.  Because the project is a documentary, it presents an edited presentation of the interviews, whereas the digital resource for Pavee Point will present each interview as standalone rather than weaving them together into one stream of audio. The project is definitely worth highlighting since most of the online oral histories from Irish Travellers that I was able to find are textual versions, not audio ones.

One of the first audio projects I stumbled upon was Provoke! Digital Sound Studies by Soundbox, which is a platform for displaying academic studies using audio. One such project is “The Grand Rue: Roads as Thoroughfares of Life” by Myron Beasley and Robert August Peterson. It is a 30-minute long audio recording of sounds from The Grand Rue, a road through the centre of Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, two days before the 2010 earthquake. The context for the project is explained primarily through audio recordings of interviews with the creators. Like with the “From the Road” project, this is an academic project, which means the recordings are edited to create a cohesive narrative. Such audio projects demonstrate the potential for multimedia presentations of research.

The Library of Congress has probably one of the largest archives of oral histories. The American Folklife Center’s Online Collections and Presentations, one of the Library’s research centers, includes 35 multimedia collections available online, categorized according to region, identity, historical event, famous individual, or subject matter. One of their collections is the Civil Rights History Project, which features over 100 audiovisual interviews with activists during the Civil Rights movement.

One of the more well-known audio oral history projects is StoryCorps, a U.S. organization with over 50,000 interviews archived. It includes a number of initiatives around specific subjects. For example, StoryCorps OutLoud records the stories of people in the LGBTQ community. They have other initiatives focused on preserving the experiences of Latino/as, African Americans, Alaskans, veterans, people living with serious illness, and people dealing with memory loss, as well as other groups or communities. StoryCorps is notable for its extensive collection of oral histories. Unlike the first two projects presented above, the primary intention of the StoryCorps and Civil Rights History projects is to collect and preserve as many recorded interviews as possible, whereas the purpose of the previous two projects is to analyze the audio recordings to develop an academic argument. In this way, the digital resource for Pavee Point is closer in intention to StoryCorp and Civil Rights History Project–preserving and uploading audio recorded interviews online–than “From the Road” or “The Grand Rue,” though the latter two are closer in terms of scope (i.e. a handful of interviews versus hundreds).

A couple other collections I found interesting are Roma Britain and He Pātaka Mātauranga. These two projects vary significantly in how they are set up, so comparing them helped me consider the options for organizing and displaying the audio recordings from Pavee Point.

Ciara Lemming’s “Roma Britain” is a multimedia documentary project that shares stories and photographs from Roma in Britain. This project currently includes individual pages for seven people. Many of these vignettes include videos, and one of the vignette collections (Anna’s) includes some of her poetry and art. Compared to some of the other projects described here, there are few individuals featured in this collection; however, because each vignette includes diverse forms of content, the collection appears to be a more in-depth look into their lives and experiences. The small number of vignettes shared actually makes the project seem more personal.

Created by Te Ipukarea – The National Māori Language Institute, He Pātaka Mātauranga is a repository of videos about Māori language, knowledge, and customs. Many of the videos feature group interviews with three or more Māori elders. They are in the Māori language, though the videos in Series One have brief English descriptions of the content. The videos are organized and labelled by content rather than by interviewee; they are about 50 minutes each, combining clips from different interviews. Most of the audio collections I came across organized the audio or video recordings by interviewee. In the case of “Roma Britain,” Lemming suggests in a disclaimer that she does not have Romani heritage and is thus “neither trying to speak for Roma people nor looking to replace old stereotypes with new ones.” The focus is on the individual’s lives, not on making arguments about Roma people in Britain overall. He Pātaka Mātauranga, however, is intended as a repository of information about Māori culture, so organizing the recordings by content better fits the aim of the project.

While there are a few different sets of interview questions covered in the cassette tapes from Pavee Point, it would be possible to divide the interviews into clips and organize them by content rather than by interviewee. After talking with my supervisor Aisling about which option would be best for the presentation of these interviews—by interviewee or by subject matter—we decided to aim for splitting the interviews into clips but keeping all of an interviewee’s clips together on the same page. Ideally, we will be able to include photographs of the interviewees as well as small biographies.  Because of this contextual information, it makes more sense to organize the audio clips by person.

The audio projects described above acted as great guides for considering the different options for presenting the audio recordings on Pavee Point’s new website.

Digitization

Designing the audio digital resource also entails researching the logistics behind digitizing the cassettes and preserving them online. The first step is digitization. I researched different methods for digitizing cassette tapes, and the most common methods are the following:

  1. Connect a regular cassette player to a line-level input on a computer, and use audio editor software like Audacity to convert the recording to a digital file. I have a cassette player and the necessary connecting cable for this option (a cable with 3.5mm jacks on both sides), but my computer does not have a line-level input. I would therefore have to get an audio interface.
  2. Use a cassette deck or portable player that can convert recordings to digital files and can connect to a computer through USB. These digital converters are normally either fairly cheap (about €20) but a bit “hit and miss” in quality or prohibitively expensive (>€100) for this project. Obviously, the latter options have better sound quality, though poor sound quality tends to be more noticeable in music compared to spoken word. There are some options in the middle, but ease of use is still a significant factor.

While looking for a reasonably priced cassette converter with good reviews overall, I found a cable that can convert cassette recordings to digital files. It connects to a regular cassette player through a 3.5mm jack and connects to a computer through a USB plugin. Because I was able to find one of these converter cables for approximately €20 with pretty good reviews, I decided to recommend this option, and my supervisor intends to order this digital converter for this project.

The cable can convert to WAV and MP3 file formats, amongst others. WAV format is uncompressed and has a higher quality than MP3, but it is also much larger than MP3 files. Ideally, I will convert the recordings to WAV file format, edit them, and then convert them to MP3 files for transfer and storage on the website.

Metadata

The unofficial metadata standard for audio files is ID3 for the MP3 format. This seems to be a good option for embedded metadata. Ideally, I will also apply an external metadata standard, specifically Dublin Core. Based on a few oral history projects I found, Dublin Core is a common metadata schema for interviews because it is well-established, media-independent, and relatively simple (Hunter and James, section 4; IASA, section 3.9; Florida Voices, Dublin Core oral history sample; “Oral Histories: Metadata,” DC metadata table for interviews; English, “External Metadata“).

References

English, Eben. 2010. “Metadata for Digital Audio Collections.” University Libraries: Faculty Publications & Other Works. Loyola eCommons. Loyola University Chicago, December. Accessed 12 April 2015. http://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=lib_facpubs

Florida Voices. 2008. “Cataloguing Interviews.” Florida Electronic Library. Accessed 12 April 2015. http://www.fcla.edu/FloridaVoices/catalogingInterviews.shtml.

Hunter, Jane, and Darren James. 2000. “The application of an event-aware metadata model to an online oral history archive.” Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 291-304.

IASA Technical Committee. 2009. Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects (web edition), ed. by Kevin Bradley. Second edition 2009. (Standards, Recommended Practices and Strategies, IASA-TC 04). Accessed 12 April 2015. www.iasa-web.org/tc04/audio-preservation

“Oral Histories: Metadata.” 2008. Ball State University Library Wiki, 21 October. Accessed 12 April 2015. http://www.bsu.edu/libraries/wiki/index.php?title=Oral_Histories#Metadata

Additional Resources

Ashenfelder, Mike. 2013. “Name That Tune: Adding Labels and Descriptions into Your Audio Files.” The Signal: Digital Preservation. The Library of Congress, 31 January. Accessed 24 March 2015. http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2013/01/name-that-tune-adding-labels-and-descriptions-into-your-audio-files/.

Audacity Manual. 2015. “Audacity Manual Contents,” March 15. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/Main_Page.

Audacity Manual. 2015. “How to Connect Your Equipment,” February 15. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/How_to_connect_your_equipment.

Bedford, Mike. 2012. “How to Convert Audio Tapes to CD or MP3.” PC Advisor, December 22. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/audio/3417318/how-convert-audio-tapes-cd-or-mp3/.

Bell, Donald. 2012. “Transfer Cassette to MP3 (photos) – CNET.” CNET, May 7. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.cnet.com/pictures/transfer-cassette-to-mp3-photos/.

Broida, Rick. 2006. “Alpha Geek: How to Digitize Cassette Tapes.” Lifehacker, December 18. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://lifehacker.com/222394/alpha-geek-how-to-digitize-cassette-tapes.

Brown, Korbin. 2013. “How to Digitize/Backup Cassette Tapes and Other Old Media.” How-To Geek, December 11. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.howtogeek.com/177084/how-to-digitizebackup-cassette-tapes-and-other-old-media/.

Harris, Mark. “Converting and Digitizing Audio Cassettes to MP3.” About Tech. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://mp3.about.com/od/tutorials/a/Converting-Audio-Cassettes-To-Mp3-Essential-Equipment-For-Digitizing-Audio-tapes.htm.

Harris, Mark. “Factors to Consider Before Converting to MP3.” About Tech. Accessed 24 March 2015. http://mp3.about.com/od/musicformats/a/MP3settings.htm

“How to Transfer Cassette Tape to Computer.” WikiHow. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.wikihow.com/Transfer-Cassette-Tape-to-Computer.

Kishore, Aseem. 2014. “How to Record Cassette Tapes to PC/Computer.” Online Tech Tips, December 1. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.online-tech-tips.com/computer-tips/transfer-audio-cassette-to-computer/.

Mallery, Sam. 2012. “Recording Cassette Tapes into a Computer.” B&H. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/audio/tips-and-solution/recording-cassette-tapes-computer.

Peek, Sean. 2015. “Best Cassette to MP3 Review 2015.” TopTenREVIEWS. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://cassette-to-mp3-review.toptenreviews.com/.

Trivedi, Yatri. 2011. “HTG Explains: What Are the Differences Between All Those Audio Formats?” How-To Geek, January 18. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/40465/.

Digital Humanities Internship with Pavee Point

As part of my Digital Humanities program, I’m doing an internship with Pavee Point, an advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring human rights for Irish Travellers and Roma in Ireland and internationally. The organization is dedicated to the belief that any work on behalf of Irish Travellers and Roma must actively involve Irish Travellers and Roma. Pavee Point has a collection of cassette tapes of recorded interviews with Irish Travellers, and my internship involves designing an online resource so they can be easily accessible.

Internship Scope

There are not many widely accessible materials about Irish Travellers from the perspectives of Irish Travellers, and many of the recorded stories and interviews are textual versions of oral histories. These recordings from Pavee Point are representative of the oral tradition of the Traveller community, and Pavee Point wants to make these recordings, which focus on aspects of Traveller culture and history, widely available. It was therefore important to digitize these audio recordings rather than just transcribe them.

This internship has the following objectives:

  • Create a bibliography of digital audio projects
  • Create a digitization protocol outlining the appropriate methods for digitizing and preserving the recordings
  • Research file storage options for the digitized audio recordings
  • Research metadata schema for labeling and categorizing the recordings to enable searching and browsing
  • Create a wireframe of a webpage, focusing on simple navigation and functionality

Because Pavee Point wants the recordings to be easily available to as many people as possible, they want the webpage to be very user-friendly.

I’m also developing a preliminary tag list for the recordings to help categorize the various topics covered in the interviews. I realize I might have difficulty recognizing and properly labeling these topics of discussion because I am not a member of the Irish Traveller community and because I do not have previous experience working with Pavee Point or a similar organization. It was therefore important for me to read through some of the information resources available on Pavee Point’s website.

Contextual Information

I’m from the U.S., so first I had to learn more about the forms of discrimination and other systemic challenges that Travellers face in Ireland. One of the resources my supervisor recommended was the “Selected Key Findings and Recommendations from the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study—Our Geels 2010″ (Quirke 2012).

The 2010 Our Geels: All Ireland Traveller Health Study was a comprehensive study of the health status and needs of Travellers in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The research team from the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science at University College Dublin trained 400 Traveller peer researchers from around Ireland to collect data; the study has an unusually high response rate of 80% (Quirke, “Selected Key Findings,” p. 1-2). Conducted from 2007 to 2010, the study used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, and its findings range from demographic information to health statistics (e.g. life expectancy, illnesses and main causes of death, social factors that impact health) to available services and some of the difficulties Travellers face in accessing them. The study also includes information on aspects of Traveller culture (under the section “Travellers and Change in the 21st Century,” starting on page 118 of the full study).

The study showed that Travellers have a significantly higher mortality rate than the national average. Overall, the findings from Our Geels: All Ireland Traveller Health Study reveal the long-term effects of discrimination on the physical and mental health of Irish Travellers.

Pavee Point has a range of other resources available online with information on accommodation, education, violence against women, drug and alcohol use, racism and discrimination, and other topics. Another resource my supervisor recommended was a pamphlet challenging common myths about Travellers and Traveller culture. Currently, the Irish government does not recognize Irish Travellers as a distinct ethnic group, though there is indication that this might change this year.

These resources helped contextualize the questions asked in the interviews recorded on the cassette tapes. I also used Pavee Point’s categorization of resources as a starting point for the preliminary tag list.

The First 11 Tapes

Initially, I was given 11 tapes. They were not what I was expecting.

Only some of them included labels, and many of those were not very descriptive or clear. Rather than interviews with Irish Travellers, the tapes ranged from a Five Seven Live radio program to a brainstorming session between organizations about activism on behalf of refugees in Ireland. The first tape I listed to contained song recordings from Mitsou and Ando Drom, who are Hungarian Roma musicians.

However, there were other tapes that were related to Irish Travellers; these included a recording of an RTÉ program about Irish Travellers, a set of Pavee Point ads for the Citizen Traveller program, recorded meetings from (presumably) Traveller advocacy organizations, and a Pat Kenny radio program featuring John O’Connell, founder and former director of Pavee Point.

In that interview, O’Connell discussed the difficulty in defining Irish Traveller culture because doing so can unintentionally present culture as something static and monolithic. It is, however, also problematic to ignore cultural differences between Travellers and settled people in Ireland and to thus implement harmful assimilationist policies (for further reading, see Ó Síocháin, Ruane, and McCann 1994, p. xiv; Crowley 2009; and “Assimilationist Policies,” p. 1-2).

Recordings like these offered useful insight into the activism by and on behalf of Irish Travellers, but they were not really the types of interviews I was expecting.

Turns out there was a mix-up with the tapes. Once my supervisor and I figured this out, we quickly exchanged the initial 11 for the correct 26 tapes.

The Final 26—no, wait, 25

Fortunately, the correct interview tapes are labelled with the full names of interviewees. Many of the tapes even include a date (day/month/year). There was only one tape without a label, so I listened to that one first. You can listen to a version of that recording here.

Yes, tape 26 is a recording of “Baby Love” by The Supremes.

The other 25 are interviews with Irish Travellers, though. Based on the available dates on the labels, most of the interviews seem to have been recorded between 1991 and 1993. Thankfully, the tapes overall are in good quality. Many of the interview questions are about aspects of daily life or about beliefs and customs, and some of the tapes even record demonstrations of flower-making and tinsmithing by members of the Travelling community.

References

All Ireland Traveller Health Study Team. All Ireland Traveller Health Study – Our Geels: Summary of Findings. September 2010. School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, University College Dublin. http://www.paveepoint.ie/tempsite3/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/AITHS-Summary-of-Findings.pdf

Crowley, Niall. 2009. “Ethnicity a Key to Equality.” Presentation to the Irish Traveller Movement AGM 2009, Athlone. Irish Traveller Movement. http://itmtrav.ie/keyissues/myview/82

Ó Síocháin, Séamus, Joseph Ruane, and May McCann. 1994. “Introduction.” Irish Travellers: Culture and Ethnicity. Anthropological Association of Ireland, xi-xxvi. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University of Belfast. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/1087/1/IrishTravellersSOS.pdf.

Pavee Point. “Assimilationist Policies and Outcomes: Travellers’ Experience.” Kenny, Máirín, and Eileen Mc Neela, researchers. Pavee Point Specialist Support Agency. http://www.paveepoint.ie/tempsite3/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/AssimilationPolicies.pdf

Pavee Point. “Our Approach.” http://www.paveepoint.ie/who-we-are/our-approach/

Pavee Point. “Our Geels: All Ireland Traveller Health Study.” http://www.paveepoint.ie/resources/our-geels-all-ireland-traveller-health-study/

Pavee Point. “Resources.” http://www.paveepoint.ie/resources/

Pavee Point, Irish Traveller Movement, and National Traveller Women’s Forum. 2005. “Irish Travellers: Challenging the Myths.” http://www.paveepoint.ie/tempsite3/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/ChallengingMyths05.pdf

Quirke, Brigid. 2012. “Selected Key Findings and Recommendations from the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study – Our Geels 2010.” Pavee Point. http://www.paveepoint.ie/tempsite3/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/AITHS-Booklet-Sep.12.pdf

Exploring the Digital Divide in the Digital Humanities

What is the Digital Divide?

The “digital divide” refers to the unequal access to information and communication technologies (ICT) across demographic lines. Much of the early work on the digital divide frames people within a binary of the “haves” and “have nots” or the “information rich” and “information poor” (Tsatsou 318, Warschauer, Payne, Potter). This framework for understanding the ongoing issue of accessibility has been criticized for misrepresenting the problem itself and the people involved (Tsatsou, Warschauer, Payne, Potter).

I briefly referenced the digital divide in my previous post on disability and virtual worlds. Because accessibility is one of the core considerations in digital humanities projects, it’s worth exploring the current discussions around the “digital divide” and its limitations as a concept.

The Problem

The digital divide framework (or at least the term’s usage in some of the discourse) operates on a handful of erroneous assumptions. First of all, positioning accessibility as all (the “haves”) or nothing (the “have nots”) obscures the variation in access to and use of ICT (Tsatsou, Warschauer, Payne, Potter). This requires a very narrow definition of accessibility where someone either has full access or no access at all, which does not accurately reflect the situation of access to ICT. This binary also lends itself to viewing the digital divide in one dimension at a time, overlooking how overlapping identities or factors will affect accessibility and usage. Warschauer argues that, in spite of the intentions of the “digital divide” term to highlight a problem in order to solve it, labeling certain demographics as “have nots” can “further social stratification, by discouraging employers or content providers from reaching out to those groups.” Moreover, efforts to bridge the digital divide often rely on the idea of the so-called ICT “haves” helping up the “have nots,” primarily through offering the needed tools (i.e. computers and internet connectivity) and frequently without considering how ICT will integrate into existing social systems (Warschauer, Tsatsou).

As Warschauer demonstrates through three vignettes in his article “Reconceptualizing the Digital Divide,” providing the computers and connectivity without any resources for learning how to use the tools will not really improve accessibility. We also need to consider how the tech can be integrated into existing social systems and for what purpose. Like the introduction of any tool, ICT can drastically change aspects of culture in unexpected ways. Or it can be tossed aside because the community doesn’t consider it beneficial or desirable. This is another underlying assumption in much of the digital divide conversation: that everyone even wants these technologies (Green). ICT can improve communication, but in other cases, it can hinder it (Warschauer). Additionally, “a key assumption of digital divide discourse is that greater access to technology and, through this, information, will improve lives” (Potter).

To address these issues, some participants in the “digital divide” conversation recommend redefining or expanding on the concept (e.g. Potter’s “zones of silence” and Jenkin’s “participation gap”), while others propose alternative frameworks for understanding the intersection between access to ICT and systemic inequality (e.g. Warschauer’s “technology for social inclusion”).

We need to balance between seemingly conflicting responses: acknowledge how access to ICT reflects existing power dynamics while also reproducing them (Warschauer), but don’t assume ICT is necessary and desirable for every community or group. Don’t push ICT onto a community thinking it will, by default, address systemic inequality, but don’t exclude a group from access in a misguided attempt to “preserve their culture.” It really all comes back to the same requirement: listen to the community or representatives of the group in question. This seems kind of obvious, but it can be more difficult than it sounds since the responses can dramatically shift the underlying assumptions about information and communication technologies and their uses.

What does this mean for Digital Humanities?

In his post “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” Alan Liu states, “How the digital humanities advance, channel, or resist the great postindustrial, neoliberal, corporatist, and globalist flows of information-cum-capital, for instance, is a question rarely heard in the digital humanities associations, conferences, journals, and projects with which I am familiar. Not even the clichéd forms of such issues–e.g., ‘the digital divide,’ ‘privacy,’ ‘copyright,’ and so on–get much play.” He goes on to say that the absence of cultural criticism in DH will “stunt the field’s future growth.”

Accessibility is one of the core considerations of digital humanities projects, but it isn’t enough to put the information or resources online; reaching a target audience requires designing the project with that audience’s interests and situation (social, environmental, technological, etc.) in mind. Designing a digital humanities for the largest possible audience is not really feasible, but if we want the work and research in the digital humanities to reach beyond the boundaries of academia, it’s crucial to explore the issues surrounding accessibility to ICT.

These issues of accessibility also play out within academia and, more specifically, within digital humanities. Taking one of the common debates within DH—whether digital humanists need to know how to code—Miriam Posner points out that there is a gender disparity in programming knowledge (at least in the U.S.), in part due to stereotype threat, implicit associations between masculinity and technology, and microaggressions and even misogyny in tech workplace cultures and online communities (O’Brien et al; Purcell; Huhman; Beede et al; Hill, Corbett, and St. Rose). Posner argues that this—alongside racial and other disparities—needs to be addressed in these DH conversations on whether knowing how to code is a prerequisite to participation.

Access is not just having the hardware and software of ICT, and I would argue it’s not just technical literacy either. It’s also having your viewpoint, insights, and use of the technologies considered in the production and discussions of ICT (Salmond, Potter). It’s having the technology adapted to your interests and needs rather than being expected to adapt to fit the tech. Returning to the digital divide concept, “the notion of a binary divide between the haves and the have-nots…can even be patronizing as it fails to value the social resources that diverse groups bring to the table” (Warschauer). How will incorporating the views and resources of different cultural and social groups influence the dominant understandings of information and communication technology within digital humanities?

In the article “The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique,” Liu mentions the importance of “play” for developing new techniques, tools, and ideas in digital humanities (22-24). When designing projects to improve accessibility of ICT in a particular community, providing spaces to play could be as important to full accessibility as the knowledge and skills needed to operate the tools (Bessette). This helps interested (so-called) “have nots” use the tech but also begin creating or recreating the tools to fit them. Accessibility, then, might mean being not just a user but also a creator.

 

References

 

Disabilities & Virtual Worlds

Disabilities & Virtual Worlds

It’s a pretty common belief that new technologies enhance accessibility and improve quality of life, and this is definitely something I believe in general, especially with regards to digital technologies. In her post “Does a virtual world make our world better?” Olga mentions the potential for virtual worlds to act as a creative outlet and educational tool for people with disabilities. Expanding on her ideas, I reviewed a few additional studies to get a better sense of the use of digital technologies by people with disabilities.

For some users with disabilities, virtual worlds and other digital technologies can increase their sense of inclusion and empowerment, providing access to information and skill sets that may be otherwise difficult to acquire (Stendal 2012 – more on this later). Still, just getting access to internet or a computer is an issue for many people with disabilities. Full accessibility does not just mean access to the digital technologies themselves, though; it includes digital technologies that are designed to account for variation in ability and disability among users.

Quick Review of Language

Before going further into the use of virtual worlds and other digital technologies, I should first state that this post is coming from a non-disabled person. The definition of disability and the terminology around disability vary by country and even community. The Accessing Safety Initiative offers information on some of the changes in the definition and understanding of disability.

Person First Language (e.g. “people with disabilities”) seems to be preferred in major institutions in the United States, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). It’s also currently used by the World Health Organization (see Folkin’s “Resource on Person-First Language” from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and “What is People First Language?” on The Arc for more information on Person First Language). Other sources argue against the use of Person First Language and instead use the term “disabled people” (see “The Art of Respectful Language” by Equality Training  and “Inclusive Language” on Gov.uk).

Since I’m non-disabled, I don’t feel comfortable arguing for one over the other. Because I’m currently residing in Ireland, I looked at the language used by a handful of Irish disability advocacy organizations, and many of them use Person First Language (e.g. Disability Federation of Ireland, Arts & Disability Ireland, Enable Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, and Cope Foundation). For the rest of this post, I will do the same.

Virtual Worlds and Other Digital Technologies

According to Dr. Anthony Curtis’s Center for the Study of Virtual Worlds, “a virtual world is a computer-simulated environment inhabited by users who interact through their on-screen avatars. Social life in the virtual world is depicted by multiple users appearing together in three-dimensional graphical scenes” (italics in original).

In the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research (available online), Stendal (2012) reviewed 54 articles studying the use of information and communication technology (ICT) and virtual worlds by people with disabilities. Some of these studies suggested that ICT can offer increased participation and inclusion in social settings for people with disabilities. More opportunities for social interactions can improve a user’s quality of live. Virtual worlds can be a platform to express and share thoughts, and increased access to information can also help increase their sense of inclusion (pages 7-8). Some of the users felt empowered by the access to information and the use of ICT to facilitate decision-making (Stendal, page 8).

As Olga referenced in her post, digital technologies, especially virtual worlds, can be useful tools for education for people with disabilities. Virtual worlds can also help people with disabilities acquire skills that can be applied to offline settings, such as for work (Stendal, page 9). Stendal cited one study that suggested using virtual worlds for “virtual field trips” for students with disabilities (page 9). Virtual worlds and more immersive technologies could help people with physical disabilities “visit” and experience cultural heritage sites and locations that are currently inaccessible to them.

However, there’s still the issue of the “digital divide” in access to these digital technologies (Stendal, page 6, 10; “Dis/Abilities & Cyberspaces” by CulturalPolitics.net). For some people, the absence of a computer in the household is due to socioeconomic factors. Stendal also cites the perception of people with disabilities as a factor that can lead to minimal access to the internet: “Care givers may not trust people with disability to use ICT or may not understand the importance of such use, and so make decisions on behalf of people with disability” (page 7).

A few studies in Stendal’s literature review revealed that additional programs or features, like voice features for some deaf users, can make it difficult for those users to choose whether they want to disclose or conceal a disability (page 8). Some virtual worlds require a certain degree of training before use, which acts as another barrier to entry for some users with disabilities: “…ICT has become a social phenomenon, and without the right training and access, people with disability may experience exclusion rather than the promised inclusion” (Stendal referencing Söderström’s study, page 8). To address these issues, Stendal concludes we need more research on the use of virtual worlds by users with disabilities and on their experiences in order to better develop virtual worlds and program designs that address the variation in disability (page 11).

Of course, there is a great range of variation in disability, and this is not a homogeneous group. Perhaps the only similarity is that people with disabilities do not (currently) have the proper environmental and/or social set up that supports them: “…Disability is a matter of degree: one is more or less disabled based on the intersection between herself, her functional abilities, and the many types of environments with which she interacts. Moreover, the experience of disability can be minimized by designing environments to accommodate varying functional abilities and providing individualized solutions when needed” (“A New Definition” by Accessing Safety Initiative). This reflects the more recent focus on external factors within the definition of disability.

Many digital humanities projects are designed with the intention to ensure accessibility, but considerations for people with disabilities may not be consistently included in the design and development stages. I’m not sure how frequently they account for this variation among users or how many digital humanities projects currently available actually focus on or include disability history, heritage, and cultures. It’s definitely worth further research and exploration.

Full accessibility, then, includes more than just access to a computer and internet. It means considering the variation in ability and disability in the initial design and development of digital technologies, and it means working toward universal designs that are accessible to as many people as possible (Stendal, page 10; Chaudhry and Shipp 2005).

 

References

This post isn’t anywhere near exhaustive of the benefits and challenges of digital technologies or of the tools currently available for people with disabilities. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) hosts a Web Accessibility Initiative with information and resources on designing web content and projects that are accessible to people with disabilities. CulturalPolitics.net’s section on “Dis/Abilities & Cyberspaces” offers a useful list of resources and references for more on this topic. Disability Studies Quarterly and National Rehabilitation Information Center also include studies on the use of digital technologies by people with disabilities.

Visualization in Cultural Heritage

Visualization within the Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities might be one of those concepts or terms that is easier to explain through providing examples. Rome Reborn is digital humanities. Virtual worlds can be digital humanities. CENDARI, Europeana, and Digital Public Library of America are digital humanities, though presenting any of these as representative of digital humanities may overlook its interdisciplinary scope. WhatIsDigitalHumanities.com offers a new definition for each page refresh, with over 500 quoted definitions available. By my (still developing) definition, digital humanities encompasses any intersection between the digital—that is, technology which represents data through a series of 1’s and 0’s, according to Webopedia—and the cultural artifacts studied within the humanities.

The tools and methods being developed for and through digital humanities projects offer new ways of collecting and presenting data as well as new ways of interpreting and analyzing information. Visualization within the digital humanities is one means of organizing and showcasing raw and analyzed data, and the process of constructing visualizations can illuminate new observations of and connections between objects of study.

Visualization can refer to any visual representation of data, ranging from 2D representations like infographics and word clouds to 3D models. Visualizations offer unprecedented ways of analyzing large quantities of data that cannot reasonably be processed manually, and some of these technologies can record cultural artifacts that cannot be represented as fully in text, like dance or theater performances.

Visualizations can also make research findings more accessible, meeting the needs of multiple audiences at once. Some visualization initiatives like Rome Reborn, a project to construct 3D digital models of ancient Rome, aim to create final products that can be useful as a teaching and an experimental research tool while still being accessible for a non-academic audience (Frischer, 2013).

Visualizing Cultural Artifacts

Within the cultural heritage sector, visualization is “a process of representing knowledge about space, time, behaviour, sound and light, and other elements that constitute cultural environments” (Bentkowska-Kafel and Denard, 2012). Building on available documents, remnants of the cultural environment, oral accounts, and/or other visual representations, researchers can use visualization technologies, such as remote sensing tools and virtual worlds, to represent both tangible and intangible cultural artifacts.

It can be easy to mistakenly view a visualization as a replication rather than as a representation. The final product of a visualization project can be easily separated from the evidence and analysis which informed the visualization process. Archaeologist Jeffrey Clark (2010) cautions against referring to archaeological models as “reconstructions,” arguing that this can mislead viewers into thinking of the model as a true replication of the object or site in digital form (pages 63-64). This concern of misrepresenting the degree of “truth” applies to other types of cultural heritage visualizations, all of which are built upon layers of analysis and interpretation that can be disputed with new evidence or alternative explanations. To adopt Clark’s distinction, heritage visualizations are constructions rather than reconstructions of the past.

Presenting data and methods alongside the research results is expected in textual scholarship, but the characteristics of visualizations may make these final products easier to disseminate without information on the evidence and theoretical and methodological frameworks. It is for this reason that Bentkowska-Kafel and Denard (2012) argue for the methodical documentation of paradata for a visualization project, referencing the London Charter as a move to ensure accountability and adherence to the accepted standards of scholarship for the relevant disciplinary fields. As a form of metadata (or data about data), paradata consists of information on the process of interpreting and analyzing data (Bentkowska-Kafel and Denard, 2012). Allowing others to review, question, expand upon, and even dispute all the steps underlying the visualization mitigates the inclination to view visualizations as reconstructions of the past, independent from the subjectivity of the creators.

This is not just an issue in digital heritage visualizations. Architect and archaeologist Donald H. Sanders argues that any publication of archaeological findings requires a loss of intellectual transparency because the audience will not have all of the preliminary data and analyses (pages 38-39). This probably holds true for most, if not all, disciplines. The concern for visualization, then, is to offer as much intellectual transparency as possible. One benefit of digital models is that they are (at least theoretically) easier to update based on new evidence. The Rome Reborn project website even lists this ability to update the model “to reflect corrections…or new archaeological discoveries” in the section titled “Purpose of the 3D model” (Frischer, 2013). Some visualizations tools also allow multiple versions of the final representation, each reflecting a different interpretation.

Heritage visualization projects can enhance research on cultural artifacts, but many also help in preservation of the artifacts. In other digitizing efforts, like digital archives and digital libraries, preservation is a more prominent goal or function. While the primary goal of a cultural heritage visualization may be research or education, it still collects and preserves data of the artifact, at least in some form. Even most non-digital efforts to preserve a cultural artifact will not be able to preserve it in its original state when first created; this becomes even more complicated considering many tangible artifacts undergo changes just through their use as material culture.

Preservation is a common concern in cultural heritage projects, but the issue of preservation encounters different obstacles when the object is a digital visualization. New tools offer new ways of representing and preserving human experience and knowledge, but “new” does not necessarily mean more considering some of the older technologies become obsolete. Read an older digital humanities article or paper, and there’s a decent chance some of the digital humanities projects offered as examples will no longer be active due to out-of-date technology. When the only means of preserving a cultural artifact is to digitize it, how do you preserve that digitized representation when digital technologies are changing so rapidly? As more and more cultural artifacts are created digitally, the role of visualization within cultural heritage projects will need to accommodate not only the rapid shifts in technology but also rapid changes in the born-digital cultural artifacts themselves.

Founder of the Internet Archive project, Brewster Kahle, asserts that the best means of preservation is ensuring accessibility and keeping the artifact in use: “access drives preservation” (Minard, 2013, 9:46). This means not just making it available online but also reaching target audiences interested in the object of study, especially if the project relies on volunteered time and effort, like with crowdsourcing. Ideally, the target audience stays engaged with the project by using the offered technology and thus participates in the preservation of the cultural artifact(s).

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