Metadata Networks, Intellectual Migration, and Locatability

The question of how we chart feminist historiography seems fundamentally a question of how we chart the migration of intellectual capital, and in turn how we believe or assume this capital can shift or be moved. Several digital projects already argue for crowd-sourcing as a disciplinary activity, and for realizing web-based platforms as nexuses for digital annotation rather than just the transfer of publications. Additionally, spatial humanities centers emphasize mapping and movement as key historical methodologies, while other projects demonstrate a commitment to shaping new systems of historical knowledge by contributing and studying dynamic metadata.

However, while these projects visualize flow and movement of data, their movement paradigms may be guided by the circulation patterns of objects, rather than references or ephemera. Thus, MDMP joins them by finding new ways to visualize intellectual provenance and migration, even while understanding provenance and migration somewhat differently from categories reflected in other archival metadata initiatives, like the Dublin CoreSpecifically, MDMP presents a migration paradigm that is guided by unprocessed, partially processed, or digitally obscure materials, rather than by the systematic circulation of published texts. In its final form, MDMP will act as a user-contributed tool for preserving, analyzing, and making this information accessible. 

Women’s archival representation in rhetoric and writing studies has been flattened by the incremental circulation of their texts, projecting significant gaps in public canons from this era. Sometimes these gaps are caused by digitized university collections that represent too closely the interests of their donors. At other times, women faculty held contingent or untenured positions, making it harder to locate them in traditional venues such as conference programs, published textbooks, or faculty course lists. In response, MDMP moves feminist historical inquiry towards a model of locatability: a flexible ecology that describes how histories get written as a result of historians’ interventions with them. Locatability accounts for more than where a text is currently stored. It accounts for a document’s whole lifecycle, including its multiple origins, places of use, and actual or probable reach; its uses as a teaching text or as a sought historical artifact; and the motives that cause researchers to seek it out. Unique to this system is that women’s critical locations include historians’ own affiliations and motives for seeking them out, as well as the way their metadata reveals or conceals topical shifts over time.

As a metadata network, MDMP places historians and their subjects in the same critical space by making the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century locations of North-American women pedagogues more visible, and by including historians’ motives as part of these locations. MDMP will trace the migration of feminist pedagogical ideas through the circulation of metadata about students, curriculum, and course administration, where artifacts may no longer be circulating. It will also enable researchers to identify unique topical relationships between metadata records, expanding the disciplinary canon. In sum, MDMP tries to model a way of doing history that does not depend solely on the circulation of artifacts, but enables rhetorical historians to explorevisually and ontologicallythe relationships between topics and location. It responds to three needs: 

      1. filling a representational gap in women’s pedagogical history, given that most databases rely on the systematic circulation of published texts;
      2. enacting a different kind of historical inquiry by mapping and visualizing how women’s pedagogical influence has moved trans-historically (across histories, or through space, time, and critical consciousness); and
      3. modeling a set of data representations that show relationships between bibliographic references and users’ activities.

History and Duration

MDMP first began as a concept in 2010, when Tarez Samra Graban started investigating metadata ecologies for feminist recovery work. During the 2011-2012 academic year, MDMP evolved into a rough prototype at the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University, where Graban surveyed the field of feminist rhetorical studies for like digital tools, participated in symposia on ontology construction and data delivery, contacted scholars working in or near institutional archives to assess the project’s need,  and mocked up the first wireframe.

In January 2013, data designer Alli Crandell joined the project with an interest in representing data ecologies and a back-end mechanism that would integrate visualizations and taxonomies together, beginning with the development of a new wireframe, interface, and experimental maps. An initial development phase occurred during Summer 2013, when a small grant enabled Graban to gather institutional metadata from four schools in two different regions, study ways of merging data and design in the construction of a static prototype, theorize prototype visualizations, and form an advisory board. Now, the MDMP development team seeks funded support to finish its construction and launch it in stages, beginning in 2014. When it is fully launched, they may also approach the OCLC Archive Grid to offer mutual hosting of stable records, since the dynamism of the ontology will rely equally on users’ contributions and on linked open data (LOD).

How You Can Participate

Currently, MDMP is a user-friendly gateway for entering metadata from unpublished or out-of-circulation textbooks, administrative and curricular documents, and archival ephemera, but it is intended to accommodate information in any form. Its ultimate goal is to offer various representations of how the intellectual and pedagogical activities of women faculty associated with rhetoric, writing, or literacy instruction have circulated between institutions and their publics. At the present time, a set of experimental metadata dictates the parameters of MDMP; however, the tool is only as useful as its contributors and users. If you would like to contribute metadata to help influence its parameters as we finish its construction and make it ready to launch, please feel free to do so using our Contribution Form. We welcome and rely on your contributions.