• Investigating Indentured Servitude (presentation text)

    Cynthia Heider (see profile) , Nicôle Meehan, Bayard Miller (see profile)
    Global Digital Humanities Symposium
    Digital humanities, Research, Methodology, Data sets, Open access publishing, Social history
    Item Type:
    Meeting Title:
    Global DH Symposium
    Meeting Org.:
    Michigan State University
    Meeting Loc.:
    Meeting Date:
    indentured servitude, labor, philadelphia, Digital humanities research and methodology, Early American history, Open data
    Permanent URL:
    As part of its Open Data Initiative, the Center for Digital Scholarship (CDS) at the American Philosophical Society creates publicly available datasets from library material. Our most recent project, Investigating Indentured Servitude, facilitates access to, and attempts to recover underrepresented voices from a record of over 5,000 indentured servants coming through the Port of Philadelphia from 1771-1773. This data has the potential to tell thousands of stories, and reveal new knowledge about migration, labor, and exploitation. While opening up historical documents to computational analysis permits additional levels of access to collections, some datasets present more challenges than others, particularly when the data represents the human experience quantitatively. The processes of data collection, organization, interpretation, and visualization have the potential to enact, reify, or reinforce cultural and structural harms, biases, and inequalities. Due to the quantitative demands of computational analysis, even well-intentioned and careful data work may misrepresent the nuance, complexity, and uncertainty inherent in human lives and experiences. This project has allowed us to explore creating a responsibly humanistic approach to data: One that requires turning our gaze inwards, being honest about the decisions we make, and providing transparency around method and labor, as well as critical assessment of the data’s uncertainties, biases, and limitations. A feedback form has allowed us to engage with the public and see how stories of underrepresented individuals have resonated with our visitors. These responses will allow us to continue to refine our approach to this project, and those we may undertake in the future. This presentation will discuss challenges the project team faced, lessons learned along the way, and next steps.
    Presentation text in .txt format. Find presentation slides with speaker's notes here: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:38675/
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago


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