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Reflections on the Data Management Plan

According to Stephen Zweibel’s presentation last class, data can be defined as “material or information on which an argument, theory, test or hypothesis, or another research output is based”. With the data set used by the Lost Art Collective, we are trying to highlight an historical injustice that is still ongoing today. Regardless of personal or political opinions about the repatriation of illegally removed art, the data set represents one country’s amount of artwork which previously resided within the African continent.

This particular data set was chosen because it carries some weight of legitimacy as to whether or not the art it discusses was in fact looted. The data set is derived from the French rapport “The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Towards a New Relational Ethics” which contains a compilation of African art acquired by French institutions during colonialism, and postulates that the majority of the 90,000 objects of African origin contained within French museums and libraries should be restituted to their country of origin, should a claim of repatriation be put forth by respective countries. Our project will concentrate on the 70,000 objects held at the The Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. As such, the data set is great, as it supports the purpose of the prototype for this project.

However, working with this data set has not been without challenges. The data exists as both numeric and textual data, in addition to images. The textual data, which contains images of the artwork, has proven especially difficult to extract, as the entire file exist publicly as an image file. This has caused the OCR process to be both tricky and demanding and should we not be able to obtain the raw data, this information will have to be manually put in to the database we are creating for the project. The database will be created using google spreadsheets and Omeka, a software for creating catalogs from libraries and art institutions. Visualizations will also be made using Neatline, an Omeka GIS mapping tool.

One of the pillars of this project is to shed light on the amount of African artwork that resides in Western museums and because of this, the project is fundamentally dependent on either existing databases, or on original investigation, which we simply do not have the capacity for within the time frame of the project. So, acquiring the data and obtaining the permission to use the data has been of utmost importance for the project to move forward. Reflecting upon this, it has become very evident to me that thorough research into the areas of permission to use the data and how to obtain the raw data should be undertaken before starting any new project, in order to avoid bumps in the road. That being said, despite the steep learning curve, we are moving forward.

One of the purposes for the project is that students, scholars and interested members of the public can use the database to search for artwork from specific countries and artwork of specific materials. The data set would also be made available as open source so others can use the data for their own future projects.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 5, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Camilla,

    Well said and well written, I really like your reflection on the DMP and will refer to it as we work with the LAC data.

    Thanks also for sticking to your vision of the LAC project amid the “triple tracking” I refer to in my Reflection. I think have a clear direction of a project is AS IMPORTANT as obtaining rights, and having a good DMP. The French report represented a unique opportunity to you when you came upon it and gave you an idea that you presented in Intro to DH last semester. You knew what and why you were drawn to this data, so a captain steering a ship with a strong support team are CRUCIAL elements in group projects, in my opinion.

    I want to recognize also that you were open to your idea becoming a group project and thereby, letting it go. This is not easy. I appreciate that Patty encouraged you to pitch it for DH Praxis, and am glad it was voted in, among projects that were all excellent and were tough competition.

    I’ve negotiated i.e., persuaded and in some cases, strong armed many permissions and rights to content in my professional life, and I actually enjoy the complexities and the legalities. Each case of rights and usage is a different challenge, and I find the process toward obtaining them both interesting and, when you catch a big fish, rewarding.
    I was ready to jump on a discount flight to Paris and storm the bastille for clearance for this report! (Plus, I have a business colleague who’s been bugging my husband and I to visit them in Paris, so they would have been happy, too — lol).

    That said, en francais, on dit:
    “Marche!”

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