Hi! I’m Lydia, a senior Linguistics major at Carleton College interested in documenting and revitalizing endangered languages and in leveraging the power of tech for social change. I was led to Digital Humanities through doing linguistic documentation of Nukuoro, a Polynesian language spoken in Micronesia. Last summer, I was part of a team that contributed to Swarthmore College’s Talking Dictionary project. This work required me to think a lot about publicly accessible digital scholarship and data organization. (While working on this project, I also found some time to learn some sweet Micronesian weaving techniques, which you can see me demonstrating in this picture.) Since then, I’ve learned that there is a thing called Digital Humanities that lets me apply this type of process to other fields I’m interested in! You could say that I’m pretty excited to get started.
This past week was training week, a brief period of calm before the storm of fall term started. I learned more than I can possibly remember all at once, but the piece I remember most clearly was about metadata; namely, I learned that good metadata is both important and extremely difficult to write. Using Dublin Core standards, I and the other Digital Humanities Associates filled in metadata entries for a number of items that ranged from photographs of people to sacred texts. During this process, I found myself asking a lot of questions: is this a photo of an artwork or is it an artwork artwork? (Gosh, I love contrastive reduplication.) Relatedly, if this is a photo, is the relevant time period necessarily the time at which the photo was taken? How detailed should I be with the description? With the geographic location?
This small exercise that took all of ten minutes made me realize two things. First, the fact that we have online databases and metadata standards and functioning, searchable libraries at all is nothing short of a miracle. Second, data — and data about data — is rarely ever objective. Description is inherently biased towards who the writer thinks the audience is and constrained by how the item may be used. Who knew data could be so wacky? Stay tuned for more of Lydia’s data adventures.