A New Digital Publishing Framework for Exploring and Reflecting Non-Textual Cultural Narratives

This is the fifth in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2017, and their projects. This one was submitted by Harriett Green.

Photo of yarn and bowls in a market

The advent of digital content expands the scope of the stories told by researchers, and in particular, visual, audio, and moving image data formats open opportunities for scholars to share research findings on non-textual artifacts of study. Research conducted on Traditional Cultural Expression (Pilch 2009) face unique contexts and challenges in the digital realm: Scholars narrated partial histories of culture through flat texts, and such research was and is often without participation of the peoples and concern for their traditions. But with digital technologies, scholars can collaborate with communities in the telling of stories through non-textual formats.

But how do we attend to the particular needs of non-textual formats in research publications, and respect the cultural traditions framing these knowledge networks? Initiatives such as the Mukurtu Project have laid the groundwork for this area of research, and as Kimberly A. Christen (2012) notes of this work, “Examining indigenous systems of knowledge circulation and indigenous mobilizations of digital technologies widens the frame of digital analysis, redefines the contours of digital sociality, and loosens the stranglehold of open access models on the way we imagine information circulation.”

Collaborative New Framework

Our collaborative project “A New Framework for Sharing and Reflecting Non-Textual Cultural Narratives” seeks to build upon this work by exploring how researchers, cultural heritage institutions, designers, and communities can collaborate to design frameworks for digital publications that reflect community-embedded research focused on cultures with non-textual modes of Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE).

The project will use a case study approach to explore the penumbra of political, social, and cultural issues surrounding the creation and transmission of Traditional Cultural Expressions in cultural traditions with an oral and performative aspects to their knowledge networks. The case selected for study is collaborator Camee Maddox-Wingfield’s “Digitizing Diaspora Dance Identities.” This project is an evolving scholarly work in digital humanities and Black Studies that critically incorporates dynamic digital media, research in the African diaspora, and non-textual formats of Traditional Knowledge that resonate with flexible elements of storytelling and performative narratives.

Photo of 3 women working on a collaborative painting

Guiding Questions

We anticipate that our team’s contribution to Triangle SCI will be through our development of a guiding framework of technical design and publication policies for building a research narrative that attends to the non-textual and sensitive cultural traditions of performance.  We seek to answer these questions:

  • How do we design research publications with cultural heritage artifacts to be accessible and contributable by the involved communities?
  • What are the particular functionalities needed for building publications with audio and visual cultural data?
  • What are the key elements to be exposed publicly and to be curated internally with TCE digital artifacts?

The activities of our project especially will focus on examining the rights management issues for preparing TCE artifacts in audio and video formats for digital publication, drawing upon the work of the Mukurtu Project’s Traditional Knowledge licensing (Anderson and Christen 2013); developing workflows for a researcher to build data archives of cultural performance with community input; and developing design principles for “story-showing” in digital publications that reflect the context of a cultural community’s specific storytelling traditions.

Through the creation of a technical design and policy framework for digital publications focused on non-textual cultural knowledge networks, we will grapple with meta-issues such as cultural commodification.  As such, our work will have implications for other works of scholarship that engage with performative modes of TCE and Traditional Knowledge.

Our Team

Our team will bring together multiple disciplines and perspectives:

Sara Benson will provide a legal and copyright policy expertise for the discussion of rights surrounding cultural heritage and knowledge sharing with a baseline level of discussion beginning with the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee for IP’s studies and Draft Articles for the Protection of Traditional Cultural Heritage.  She will shed light on questions of legal ownership of cultural heritage and, relatedly, how the community should appropriately be consulted about the publication of the work given their related legal interests in the history of the bele dance movement.

Camee Maddox-Wingfield will contribute her expertise as participating dance ethnographer researching bèlè performance in Martinique. She has accumulated a rich body of digital dance data and aims to build a digital dance archive as well as a multimedia book project. She particularly hopes to explore how the digital mapping of dance and movement data, particularly those documenting Black diaspora dance communities, can be curated for public engagement. She also aims to develop strategies for publishing research on African diaspora dance traditions in digital platforms such as Scalar, in which visual data collected through ethnographic research methods (i.e. video footage and photographs) can accompany the written analysis. The team’s efforts at Triangle SCI will work with her research project aims and data archive as a case study for building a framework for digital publication of ethnography with non-textual data at the heart of the publication.

Brad Tober will contribute expertise on how design holds the potential to empower the recipient of information communicated via non-textual cultural knowledge sharing. In particular, Brad will consider how multi-modal representations of non-textual cultural knowledge (i.e., audio, video, and 3-D models) can offer consumers of such knowledge heightened control over their engagement with it, potentially leading to a greater (and more personalized) understanding of cultural identities and traditions. Brad will build upon his previous strategic contributions to Women in Print (http://womeninprint.press.illinois.edu), a digital publishing initiative that (in part) examined the role of supplemental multimedia technologies in offering “fresh insights into the reception history of books written by women.”

Harriett Green will provide the expertise in building sustainable framework for digital publishing, and share her knowledge on building policy and access infrastructure for digital publishing. As the project manager of the Mellon Foundation-funded project “Publishing Without Walls,” Green has firsthand experience in researching and developing infrastructure, policies, and workflows for library based digital publishing of multi-media publications and open access journals.

Our collaboration will weave together expertise in graphic design, copyright, digital publishing, and anthropology to build a case study and framework for digital publishing of scholarship on Traditional Cultural Expression.

Photo of colorful prayer flags


Anderson, J. & Christen, K. (2013). ‘Chuck a copyright on it’: Dilemmas of digital return and the possibilities for traditional knowledge licenses and labels. Museum Anthropology Review. 7(1-2), 105-126.

Pilch, J. (2009). Library copyright alliance issue brief: Traditional Cultural Expression. http://www.librarycopyrightalliance.org/storage/documents/issuebrieftce.pdf

Christen, K. A. (2012). Does information really want to be free?: Indigenous knowledge systems and the question of openness. International Journal of Communication. 6, 2880. http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1618

[ Top image by Julian Mora used under Unsplash free license. Middle image by Tim Acker used under TK Non-Commercial License. Bottom image by Igor Ovsyannykov used under Unsplash free license.]

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