Tracing Trans-historical Movement through Data Ecologies and Ontologies

The original vision for The MetaData Mapping Project (MDMP) was to provide users with a place to pool the varied and obscure metadata we might come across in the archives and institutions that we visit, or the places where we work, or in our own personal collections, report our own professional and personal motivations for gathering that data, and somehow combine those two views to construct new and multilayered historical narratives of disciplinary formation—noticing how the changing locations of our disciplinary queries might influence or be influenced by the topics we regularly research and teach.

MDMP offers two ways to accomplish this: 1) it visualizes the trans-historical movement of disciplinary topics, research interests, and pedagogical influences that are associated with women faculty and their texts—curricular, administrative, and scholarly; and 2) it builds taxonomies for rhetoric and writing instruction based on how various terms have circulated together or do circulate now. While it shares similar features with other data projects, MDMP’s database schema relies more on historical agency than it does on the circulation of artifacts.

In other words, we are trying to achieve a network analysis tool that reflects our belief that digital historicizing is an articulation of possible relationships among texts, their users, and the ideologies that helped them circulate. In mapping women pedagogues’ activities through metadata, MDMP is not simply presenting a series of object relationships (i.e., How did Document A get to Location B?), but trying to represent—through different taxonomies and visualizations—the ways that their activities have moved through historians’ disciplinary and critical consciousness (i.e., How do Topics A and B reflected in this metadata record lead us to discover Topic C?). Thus, our primary task is to create a crowd-sourced tool that offers user-based ecologies and ontologies, where “ecologies” offer visualizations of the distribution and location of encounters with pedagogical texts, both historically and contemporarily; and “ontologies” offer taxonomies that organize and affiliate topics, terms, motives, and locations.

Ecologies as Visualized Encounters

In the prototype, visualized encounters are given the status of “events,” influenced in some respects by cultural heritage ontologies, and they reflect the following kinds of relationships between records:

      • Citational, where they map the interstitial migration of documents, i.e., the places where certain documents come into our critical consciousness, are cited, mentioned, or realized. This can involve mapping from a text’s place of publication toward the various places it has been referenced, mapping the various places where a particular text has been cited contemporarily, or mapping the places where researchers are located when they discover the citation;
  • Physical and Ideological, where they map from a document’s place(s) of holding or location(s), toward the various places it has been, or places where a document has been used as curriculum, including institutions where the researcher has become interested in working with it;
  • Motivational, where they situate the desires, interests, and motives of users/contributors to the database, in the form of a heat map or an alternative visualization.
Together, these events show trends and concentrations of activity about certain pedagogues, topics, and terms.

While our prototype uses simple lists and maps to document “events,” our desired proof-of-concept will integrate these lists and maps together in order to visualize more complex systems of circulation. It will also employ heat-mapping and gradation in order to show the shifting emphases on particular topics over time, noting whether certain topics and their circulations are regionally biased, and whether researchers’ own institutional types might have influenced the figures or topics they seek. Visualizing this migration through unique data relationships presents a more nuanced disciplinary landscape that shows the nature and kind of their influence on more than just published scholarship.

In its finished version, MDMP will offer ecologies that do not privilege originary points but show more rhizomatic activity based on how women’s pedagogical influence has traveled through published and unpublished work, curriculum, university administration, civic service, citational references, and personal notes. Since individual researchers will be the ones providing data records, their institutional locations, professional affiliations, and reasons for studying a particular pedagogue or topic will all be included in the metadata. 

Ontologies as Taxonomical Encounters

MDMP will also allow users to re/construct an ontology that relates the topics, terms, motives, and specializations reflected in how we historicize women’s pedagogical work. This is especially important for bridging a critical gap between image and text analysis, especially when the data points that users contribute, search for, and map, constitute moveable targets. While the recurrence of mapping metaphors in feminist historiographic work demonstrates its significant potential for disruption, it may inadvertently favor a preservation of stable relationships between persons, places, and things.

For this reason, MDMP also offers taxonomies to comprise a network of browseable and dynamic lists that formally represent the kinds of topical relationships believed to exist among its data records at any point in time. In fact, taxonomies are in important kind of visualization because they help re/present “events” as disruptions of iconic relationships, rather than intimacies among them.