All posts by Luo Zhou

The Memory Project: Showcasing a digital collection with a website

Katie Odhner was an intern in the International and Area Studies Department in the Duke Libraries. She has a B.A. in Chinese Studies and History from the University of Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a Master’s of Science in Library Science. The following post is written by her.

Over the course of this summer, I have been working with Luo Zhou, Duke’s Chinese Studies Librarian, and Will Shaw, our Digital Humanities Consultant, to create on a website showcasing the Memory Project digital collection, which went up on the Duke Digital Repository in July. Launched in 2010 by documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang, the ongoing project has collected hundreds of oral history interviews from elderly Chinese villagers. The initiative was originally intended to document individual stories of the Great Famine, which caused the death of 20 to 43 million people between 1958 and 1961. It has since expanded to cover other movements in the early history of the People’s Republic of China, including the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1960, the Land Reform and the Collectivization of 1949-1953, and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

We had a number of reasons for wanting to create a website to feature this collection. Firstly, a website can provide additional context. Luo used TimelineJS, an interactive, open-source software to create a visual timeline of the period covered in the interviews. This allows users of the collection to examine the events and policies that underpin the personal experiences found in the oral histories.

                Secondly, the website helps promote the collection. With more than 200 interviews, it can be difficult to find an entry point. We asked students and filmmakers who had worked on the collection to recommend one or two of their favorites. I created a tile lay-out on our WordPress page to feature these interviews, along with comments from the recommenders. One of my favorite parts of working on this project was looking through the featured interviews. They contain many tales of devastating tragedy and incredible courage that bring the bleak events in history books to vivid life. The website also provides a platform for advertising events about the project. Stay tuned for the visit of a number of the filmmakers in October!

Finally, the website provides new access points for the collection and a way of quantitatively visualizing the interviews via a map. The map was the most challenging element of the website to design. There is an abundance of mapping tools, both free and proprietary, so part of the difficulty was selecting the one that fit our needs best. Once this was accomplished, it took a great deal of time just to understand the capabilities of our chosen tool (ArcGIS Web Maps). Shout-out to Drew Keener and Mark Thomas, members of the library’s Data and Visualization Services Department who gave great GIS tips along the way. It was a fun design challenge to come up with a method that could allow the user to filter the interviews by topic, as well as link out to interviews for a given village in the Digital Repository.

After reflecting on the overall experience of building the website, here are some of my major take-aways for future digital humanities endeavors:

  • Decide on your priorities. I found that the tools I was using could not always achieve what I envisioned. Sometimes finding a solution was just around the corner, and sometimes it could mean getting sucked down the rabbit-hole for hours. Having an understanding of what is important in the long-run helps prevent wasted time.
  • Consult with colleagues. The excellent members of the Digital Scholarship and Data Visualization Departments provided lots of good advice and saved me from wandering around in the aforementioned rabbit-hole on several occasions.
  • Give yourself time to play around. I discovered some of the cooler mapping features just through experimenting with ArcGIS. Sometimes no amount of guide-reading can replace trying things out for yourself.

Working with digital tools was great, but the best part of the project for me was the opportunity to reflect on the aspects of the collection that are most valuable and how best to highlight them. The tools stand in service to providing alternative means of access to the collection, visualizing its scope, and bringing the human stories contained in it to a broader audience.

An Interview with Prof. Rachel Chrane

 

Each year the UNC/Duke Consortium for Latin American &Caribbean Studies offers competitive fellowships for scholars who want to use our library resources. Priority goes to researchers from officially recognized Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominately Black Institutions, Minority Serving Institutions, and community colleges. Holly Ackerman talked with the two fellows selected by the Duke Libraries for 2019-2020. Below is the interview with Prof. Rachel Chrane. See the interview with Dr. Shearon Roberts at https://blogs.library.duke.edu/blog/2019/08/22/a-interview-with-shearon-roberts/

Prof. Chrane (L) and Cong. Norma Torres (D-CA 35th District), Washington, D.C., July 2019

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Walk us through your CV.

I grew up in Texas, but I’ve spent most of my adult life teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language at Lees-McRae College in the mountains of North Carolina. I lived in Paris, France for a year, thanks to a Rotary International Scholarship that allowed me to study French literature, culture and language at the Sorbonne. I also taught Spanish at The Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, DC, an Orthodox Jewish prep school. I enjoy learning languages and connecting with other cultures, and I believe the United States is a stronger nation because of our diversity.

When I see the people from Central America in the migrant caravan walking to the United States, I see people who will make our country stronger and more vibrant. But, when I see how they are treated at the border and portrayed on the news, I realize that it’s time for me to get out of my comfort zone and discuss the United States’ role in creating the caravan crisis.

As I shared my uncomfortable research with my Spanish students last year, we realized that we had to share this information with anyone who would listen. In March, I took students to the bipartisan Unrig Summit in Nashville, where we made a presentation about U.S. Involvement in the Caravan Crisis. People in the audience were shocked by the information we shared and they wondered why this information isn’t discussed on the news. It is sometimes difficult to believe information that doesn’t match the version of reality that is portrayed on television. The quote attributed to Mark Twain is often true: “It’s easier to fool someone than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Prof. Chrane with students from her Spanish class at the Unrig Summit

What was your research project this summer?

My research project focuses on U.S. involvement in the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. I want to know as much as I can about why the people in the migrant caravan are willing to leave their homes, their culture and their ancestral burial grounds to walk more than two thousand miles to the United States. And, now that so many Central American people are here seeking asylum, I want information on what we should be doing to honor the asylum process?

How will the information you gathered at the Duke Libraries be used?

The information I am gathering at the Duke Libraries will be the basis for a spring course at Lees-McRae College: Spanish for Social Justice. In this course, we will spend the first half of the semester looking at the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and U.S. involvement in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

We won’t be content to learn about the Central American crisis simply for knowledge’s sake. So the second half of the semester will focus on getting involved in our communities to help spread a deeper understanding of the crisis in Central America.

I cannot thank The Consortium enough for their generous research grant and the opportunity to consult with scholars at Duke University and at UNC Chapel Hill. I am truly humbled by this amazing opportunity.

What interested you most during your stay?

I was most interested in the people I met and how genuinely kind and helpful they are. Dr. Corin Zaragoza Estrera started working with me before I arrived; helping me navigate the wealth of resources at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Holly Ackerman has helped me tremendously as I explored Duke’s vast library, and she continues to help me find valuable resources for my research.

I also had the honor of talking with the former Ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, who is the Director of the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Natalie Hartman, the Associate Director, and Ambassador Duddy made it possible for me to attend the First Annual Conference on Security, Migration, and Rule of Law in the Northern Triangle of Central America while I was in Washington, D.C. in June. At the conference, I met Norma Torres (D-California) and I was grateful to get to ask her questions about her perspective on CAFTA.

The experience has simply been amazing, and it is not over! I look forward to returning September 19 to hear the Conversation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.