Humanities Computing on the Great Plains: Multilingualism, Multiculturalism, and the Politics of Funding

  1. 1. Katherine L. Walter

    Libraries - University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  2. 2. Kenneth Price

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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This paper describes the work in humanities computing now being undertaken at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, especially as it relates to multilingual, multicultural heritage. In 1999 the University established an electronic text center in the University Libraries. This year, the University recognized the importance of the UNL Electronic Text Center’s work by providing priority state funding for digital research in the humanities. The Center’s digital archives are growing and have attracted a significant amount of federal funding. Both the funding for the Center and the work of the Center itself can shed light on the political and technical issues involved in representing a multicultural heritage.

The work of the Center may appeal to some administrators, citizens, and funding agencies in part because it features foundational figures in American culture (such as Willa Cather, Lewis and Clark, and Walt Whitman). It would be a mistake, however, to see the work of our Center as presenting only an ethnocentric view of American Culture. When possible, the Center seeks to convey multicultural perspectives in its projects. The Lewis and Clark project, for example, has an advisory board that includes an enrolled member of the confederated tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation--Cayuse, Umatilla, and Nez Perce, and an enrolled member of the Salish and Kootenai Tribes. We plan to report at ACH/ALLC on the social, political, and technical challenges of obtaining native perspectives on the Lewis and Clark expedition. These perspectives and multimedia are compelling advantages of the digital version of the Lewis and Clark journals.

Similarly, the Omaha Indian Artifacts and Images Project involves creating an online exhibit and database of artifacts and images from around the U.S. and Europe. Advisors from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska assist the project in identifying sacred artifacts that can be described but may not be shown. Around 1,000 artifacts (some owned by the Tribe and never before made available to the public) are being described and a smaller number will be exhibited. This site serves the needs of anthropologists, the Tribe, and students. Commentary on the Tribe and the objects is being developed by the University of Nebraska State Museum for use within the classroom.

We also plan to begin a new project, in collaboration with faculty members in the History Department, to digitize Native American records. The initial focus is Plains Indian tribes, beginning with four tribes that have been indigenous to what is now Nebraska since at least the eighteenth century. The tribes that will be featured in the pilot site are the Omaha, the Oto-Missouria, the Pawnee, and the Ponca. The project may expand to encompass more tribes, and will seek partnerships with similar projects across the nation that may subsequently arise. Though initially the emphasis will be on presenting tribal records created by the U.S. government, we recognize the problem of perspective: these records are likely to depict and distort at once. As agents ourselves in the reproduction of culture, we need to ask ourselves: how can we strive to compensate for distortions rather than re-inscribing them in a new medium? Our plan is to involve Native Americans themselves in compiling alternative records that will round out the picture.

The UNL Electronic Text Center is also engaged in international, multilingual projects ranging from 19th-century French studies to Yoruba proverbs. The Yoruba proverbs project uses Unicode and image files to present Yoruba characters in different browsers. Design and technical issues relating to the project will be discussed.

Finally, we will address the different perspectives of scholars, librarians, archivists, and publishing staff engaged in the projects. The different cultures among these groups contribute to the strength of the Center’s programs. While each community brings different skills to the table, roles become more flexible over time.

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Conference Info



Hosted at Göteborg University (Gothenburg)

Gothenborg, Sweden

June 11, 2004 - June 16, 2004

105 works by 152 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (24), ALLC/EADH (31), ACH/ALLC (16)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None