Developmental Phases

After receiving an inaugural 2013 UNC Digital Innovations Lab/Institute for the Arts and Humanities (DIL/IAH) fellowship, Alexander Craft and her team implemented the first of several developmental stages. We concentrated on gathering existing interviews and archival materials from international researchers as well as from community members in Portobelo to establish a digital repository. To initiate this process, we began with Alexander Craft’s own research.

Phase One: Digital Repository

With the $15,000 grant, which accompanied the DIL/IAH fellowship and additional in-kind support, Alexander Craft worked in collaboration with the Digital Innovations Lab and her research team to begin the process of digitizing, transcribing, translating, and digitally coding/tagging her existing materials to make them available in an accessible online format. This included working with digital specialists to design the website within a digital environment that is as inviting for back-end users with only a general knowledge of website logics as it is for front-end users. In addition, she used the support provided by the grant to return to Panama during the summer of 2013 in order to: 1) collaborate with transcriptionists and local community members to review a set of existing interviews; 2) collaborate with a videographer to edit my existing footage and capture supplemental footage; and 3) collaborate with a specialist in audio processing and editing to prepare my existing raw materials for broader dissemination. A year in the making, this website represents the culmination of our initial phase.

Built with the Digital Innovation Lab’s new Digital Humanities toolkit (DH Press), it features a searchable digital repository of scholarship, including visual art, audio and video interviews with English and Spanish transcripts, and contextual videos focused on the Congo community of Portobelo. In addition, it begins to pull together content from disparate sources to demonstrate the ways in which the project might become a space of collaboration among scholars and the community. This prototype demonstrates the extensive possibilities available to qualitative researchers interested in using digital technologies to: 1) expand opportunities for dynamic, sustainable, mutually beneficial collaborations across geographic locations; 2) narrow the ideological space between researchers and the communities within which we work, especially when we return “home” from “the field;” and 3) lower community members’ barriers to access research about them by making it more readily available and searchable so they might use it for their own purposes and be active in a more organic process of co-creation, critique, and consumption.

Phase Two: Community Engagement 

With the support of an inaugural 2016 Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship, the second phase of the project seeks to create an opportunity for community members and scholars to engage with the technologies and rubrics built in Phase One in order to open a space for them to enter into intergenerational, intercultural, and interdisciplinary dialogues with existing research as well as create new material.

This phase seeks to create a series of workshops, presentations, and dialogic encounters with and between the three communities most intimately connected to this project: 1) scholars focused on Afro-Latin identity and culture in the Americas; 2) practitioners and cultural preservationists interested in the potential of Digital Portobelo for this and allied projects; and 3) educators interested in the ways the project might serve as a pedagogical tool. It also seeks feedback on the site’s usability and encourages communities to enter into documented dialogue with the material and each other.

To initial that process within Portobelo, Alexander Craft and several team members will return to the community in 2016 to initiate a pilot community-based intergenerational oral history project, which will pair a small group of four-to-five upper middle and high school students with community elders in order to prompt local engagement with Digital Portobelo as an interactive repository and collaborative tool.

The intergenerational community-based oral history project will: 1) provide experiential training in the ethics and praxis of conducting, preserving, and sharing oral histories; 2) create opportunities for student/elder partners to discuss the relationship between the Congo tradition as represented in their lived experiences and as represented and analyzed in scholarly research; 3) offer a platform and format for community members to enter into dialogue with existing research through Digital Portobelo’s social media tools; 4) provide the methodological tools necessary for each pair to conceptualize and conduct two oral history projects—one initiated by the student and the other by the elder; 5) work with participants to incorporate artifacts from their personal and communal archives into their projects as part of their process.

The products of phase two will reflect the digital projects created through the community-based intergenerational oral history initiative. Participants will work with team members and I to collaboratively edit, transcribe, and curate these digital projects. We plan to share them with the community through two performative presentations: one at the middle school in Portobelo an audience of students and faculty members and another at La Casa de La Cultura Congo for an audience of local community members. The material will be processed and uploaded to the Digital Portobelo website for global engagement.

As an ever unfinished and evolving practice, Alexander Craft and her team will continue to incorporate additional interviews, videos, and archival material into Digital Portobelo as well as refine the site for optimal use.