Collections as Data Facets

Collections as Data Facets document collections as data implementations. An implementation consists of the people, services, practices, technologies, and infrastructure that aim to encourage computational use of cultural heritage collections.

Ticha: A Digital Text Explorer for Colonial Zapotec

Brook Lillehaugen, Haverford College

Michael Zarafonetis, Haverford College

1. Why do it

an accessible narrative description that describes why the decision was made to do the work

The digitization, transcription, and encoding of these documents is part of Dr. Brook Lillehaugen’s linguistics research on the Zapotec family of languages in the Oaxaca region of southern Mexico. The documents include printed texts and manuscripts written by Spanish monks, bills of sale, religious testaments, land deeds, and other manuscripts that include the Spanish, Latin, and Zapotec languages. The work has been done over the past several years and continues as the project team explores more archival material in Mexico. The transcription and encoding is crucial to creating a digital annotated version of colonial period texts that include the Zapotec language, which include morphological analysis within the texts. Additionally, the public interface features a transcription tool that allows the public to transcribe documents, providing avenues for students, other scholars, and indigenous community members to engage with the materials.

2. Making the Case

an accessible narrative description that describes how the administrative case was made to do the work

No administrative case needed to be made, as digital scholarship staff in the Haverford library supports faculty and student research. This project is essential to Dr. Lillehaugen’s research. The main institutional or administrative barrier is obtaining permission from various Mexican archives to make the images publicly available.

3. How you did it

an accessible narrative description that describes how you did it; who was involved - what their roles were; what services were drawn upon; what collections were involved and why were they selected; what infrastructure and technologies were selected and why; what challenges were encountered in the course of the implementation

The project is composed of several workflows. The first is digitization of archival manuscripts (bills of sale, religious testaments, etc.), which is done primarily by project team members–faculty, student research assistants, and librarians. The Ticha project employs a postcustodial approach to the creation of the digital archive. The digital images are organized and stored in a Dropbox folder, and uploaded to an Omeka instance with the Scribe/Scripto theme and plugin combination. There they are described by student assistants, and made available for transcription. Once the transcriptions are complete, they are visible alongside the image of the manuscript.

For printed texts and bound volumes, transcription and encoding is done by students in Dr. Lillehaugen’s Colonial Valley Zapotec class. Using Git and Github for version control, students transcribe texts digitized at the Internet Archive and push their work to a remote repository. Making several passes at their assigned sections, they encode for language, outline structure, and formatting in TEI XML markup. We chose TEI to adhere to an encoding standard for texts, and to draw comparisons across texts in the growing collection. This XML markup is merged with an export of morphological analysis from the Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx), a popular software package in the field of linguistics, which is then rendered into HTML for the public site.

The public website is built in Django, a Python framework for the web, because many of our student assistants are Computer Science majors who learn Python in their introductory courses. Using the Omeka API, we can update the data and metadata in the archival materials section of the site by running a Python script. We also provide a download link to the plain text transcriptions of each page on the website. A bulk download option of all texts is coming soon.

4. Share the docs

an assortment of formal documentation (personas, use cases, functional requirements), workflows, and code you have that supports the implementation

Most of our documentation is in the Github repository for the encoded texts.

5. Understanding use

discrete discussion of how you approach understanding use (e.g. library use, research use, pedagogical use, creative use, etc.) - discussion of exemplary use is also encouraged

The materials on the site can be used freely under a Creative Commons Attribution and Share-Alike license. The encoded transcriptions are of research value to Dr. Lillehaugen and linguists who study the Zapotec family of languages. Access to the documents (both the digitized originals and the transcriptions) is important for community members to explore their language and history. By soliciting direct input from these community members and from from workshops in Oaxaca that the public interface facilitates this exploration. We continue to consult our Zapotec speaking collaborators on design and interface questions.

By providing access to the encoded texts in TEI XML, we hope that scholars can find interesting ways of visualizing the collection.

We use Google Analytics to track usage of the project, and to help us make design decisions.

6. Who supports use

discrete discussion of the people, services, and programs that support use of the data (e.g. digital scholarship services, instruction services, subject area liaisons, etc.)

The Digital Scholarship team in the Haverford library provides technical support for the project, with server space for the public interface provided by Instructional and Information Technology Services. Mike Zarafonetis (Coordinator for Digital Scholarship and Services and a project team member), and Andy Janco (Digital Scholarship Librarian) provide project management and technical support for the project. Technical work (TEI quality control, Django project feature development, etc.) is done by student research assistants and DS student assistants. DS also provides instructional support for Dr. Lillehaugen’s class, in which students collaboratively transcribe and encode the larger printed texts.

7. Things people should know

distilled things that people should know if they are thinking about pursuing similar work

This project is very inclusive of undergraduate students in the work of transcribing, encoding, and developing the web platform for the public site. This is a model that is familiar to us in the Haverford libraries, and one that is aligned with our goals as a liberal arts institution. These students require a good deal of instruction and supervision, but such deep opportunities can be transformative experiences for them and rewarding for all those involved in such projects.

Additionally, members of the project team are very intentional about incorporating feedback from Zapotec-speaking community members. The transcription feature, for example, grew out of a request from speakers of the language who wished to contribute to the project. Thinking expansively about our user base, particularly beyond a strictly scholarly audience, is important.

8. Whats next

you have something in place. whats next and why?

We continue to add more archival manuscripts and bound texts to the public interface. Students are currently encoding and transcribing Fray Leonardo Levanto’s Arte de la Lengua Zapoteca, and we hope to have the encoded version completed by the end of 2017. The next printed text for transcription, encoding, and analysis will be Juan de Cordova’s Vocabulario en Lengua Zapoteca.

We also plan to add interlinear analysis of the Zapotec language to the archival manuscripts in the near future, which break down glosses by component parts. Interlineal analysis is already in place for some of the printed texts (see this example page from Juan de Cordova’s Arte).