What Have I Been Up To?

I’m now a Research Assistant at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology

Where the magic happens.

What will I be doing there? Probably a few different things.

The collections at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA) are many, and not all of that information is stored in one place. The museum was once known as the Museum of Indian Archaeology (which made me super uncomfortable once I found out) and the collections definitely feel focused on that history. As an RA I have been tasked with a few different projects that will develop a new focus for Sustainable Archaeology, which is now a set of practices and theories rather than a physical space. I have also been asked to create some digital interactivity with their current collections.

The museum was founded out of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and their main legacy collection was formed by Wilfrid Jury. The museum has recently changed its focus from looking at the collecting, work and life of the Jury’s to the history of the field of Archaeology itself. With these things in mind I began trying to find ways in which I could build an interactive Story Map exhibit for the MOA’s use.

Looking at the amount of material available on Wilfrid Jury, my first thought was to start with those collections. The MOA wants to change some of the narratives they used to focus on but I think it’s important to work with what you have the most of. Jury can be valuable although his language, motivations, and understandings of what the mission of history/archaeology should be are dated and problematic. From what I have read so far, Jury seems to have been passionate about preserving the physical past and understanding the ways in which early settlement and the early formation of Canada occurred. Jury had fascination with ‘Pioneering’ and settlement, in-line with many Canadians of the time. Most of the sites were from early settlement, from the late 1600’s on and had both European and Indigenous inhabitants.


Wilfrid Jury had been an amateur collector with his father, an eloquent way to say that they went to ‘ancient Indian’ territories to dig stuff up. This was something the middle and upper classes from colonial backgrounds did frequently across the globe. I learned while visiting the Oil Springs museum in Lambton County that turn of the century ‘Canadians’ were heavily involved in resource exploitation and ‘collecting’ artifacts from various places around the world. Many who are focused solely in the fields of Archaeology or Museology know that many of the institutions we have today were started at viewing rooms of large collections of these ‘well-traveled’ men.



The beginnings of the MOA were no different, Wilfrid Jury had a need to store his massive collection somewhere. Jury’s relationship as an Archaeology professor at UWO and the Lawson site provided the opportunity to convert that site into the Museum of Indian Archaeology, later the Museum of Indian Archaeology and Pioneer Life, then the Museum of London Archaeology, and finally the Museum of Ontario Archaeology as it is today. Even this change of names is representative of the contemporary work being done to distance institutions from the legacies of ‘collecting’. Deaccessioning problematic collections and returning them to their proper places, collections management policies, database description language- all ways in which these institutions are attempting to open up narratives.


The exhibition space at the MOA has been undergoing changes that reflect this desire to change the narratives of their problematic past. Aside from some of the problematic depictions of pan-Indigenous peoples that remain in the space, some of the transition has already begun. Once there was a replica of Wilfrid Jury’s office, as well as several collection cabinet drawers that talked specifically about that legacy and how Jury transformed from a hobbyist into a professional archaeologist. There have also been updates to the signage around the exhibition space, talking about how this type of heritage work is contested.


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Maple Sugar article featuring Wilfrid Jury's expert knowledge
Apparently Maple Sugar was OUR ONE CONTRIBUTION TO WHITES. This was allowed to be printed.

Researching this legacy and the way in which Wilfrid rose to the position he held has been a testament to the times. It brought to mind for me the legacy of E.F. Wilson and my work at the Shingwauk site. Wilfrid Jury was a professor of Archaeology at the University of Western Ontario, started the first Archaeology field school in Canada, and had started the Museum of Indian Archaeology at UWO. Working from a background in Residential Schools history and community archival practice, I have to retool my processes to be less forthcoming about my ‘biases’ on colonial power structures and subverted racism. This being a larger institution than the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre with a mandate that doesn’t exclusively serve the Indigenous communities around it, I know I will have to be cautious about what I say and that whatever I do say will be edited by 10 other people who may not be from this particular background.

I think it is valuable to talk about these dynamics when creating an exhibit. The MOA is currently working from a set of best practices informed by the Sustainable Archaeology program, something vastly different from the Jury days. The Jury journals have language in them that is dated, it has been redacted in some of the previous student assistant blogs but I think it is important to talk about the fact professionals and ‘experts’ called us savages and that was accepted as an academic truth. I think it is important for museums to show growth, even when that calls attention to a problematic past.


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The exhibit medium I chose for my first project is Story Maps because of my recent experiences using it. I want to gain more experience with the medium but I also feel that this lends itself well to the large smart screen that is available on the museum exhibition floor. I have two maps in mind for my work, one looking at Wilfrid Jury and the legacy of Archaeology as a practice and the other looking at the locations the MOA collections come from. The Jury focused map will be in the form of a Story Map Journal and the other Story Map will be in the Shortlist format.

The Jury focused Story Map research is based off of the massive collection held at the MOA which includes his handwritten journals as well as field reports. I am hoping to put these sites in chronological order supported by Jury’s journal entries and some field reports for the information on the site itself. To make the connection between what was archaeological practice then and how we critically examine those practices now is something I’m still figuring out. But I think that once the journal takes shape, and it has been reviewed by the Museum director I can start to make those connections in the way the Museum needs.

storymap preview
Shortlist format StoryMap

This map will be large and less detailed than the map I have planned for Jury. This map’s purpose is to be a quick information base on the MOA collections and to give every day visitors an idea of how large everything is behind the scenes. The Shortlist format lays out tabs and within those tabs are individual pins that can be tied to a location with an image and some background text. Depending on which tab is selected it will display what pins are within that tab on the overall map. I chose this layout because I think it would lend itself well to the large smartboard on the exhibition floor. It also does well at breaking up the archaeological sites into categories. If the sites were all displayed at once the map would feel overwhelmed, even if each pin was a different colour. Looking at the number of sites the collections originate from, I wouldn’t have enough colours to differentiate them well enough.

The Shortlist view allows the user to click either directly in the tab menu or click the individual pins on the map. Which provides more accessibility on a large touch-screen. I have been directed to the MOA’s large archaeological library to begin to gather data on sites. For each location pin I would like it to be the approximate site with any relevant field data that can be educationally or contextually helpful (types of artifacts recovered, why the work was done, photographs of either the site or artifacts). I anticipate some challenges in finding digital materials to accompany the site pins. In some cases I might have to just type in the location data, which can be boring to younger audiences.

The value of this Shortlist map is in showcasing the numerous origins of the Museum’s collection, the diversity of the collection, in explaining why excavations begin, and showing how close archaeological sites are to urban life. For many students who visit the museum, they do not understand that artifacts are regularly recovered from unlikely places. Many of us think of urban areas as never having a legacy of Indigenous use but this is simply untrue. Many of the sites we select for suburban villages are the same sites that Indigenous peoples chose. The remains of old villages lie just beneath the surface in rural and northern areas, religious missions long abandoned or resource boom-towns left ghost when industry dried up.

With all this heritage buried throughout Ontario, you think there would be a vested governmental interest in what is found there. However there is surprisingly very little protection for what is recovered from excavation sites. The Ontario Provincial government has proposed a new plan that will make development ‘easier’ in Ontario by allowing municipalities to skip some of the protections outlined in the Planning Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Greenbelt Act. Many have heard about Bill 66 from environmentalists concerned with Greenbelt development and the lack of protections on drinking water, the ominous Section 10. The archaeological community is concerned with what some of these provisions mean for protected heritage sites and development on Indigenous sacred sites because they remove section 3(5) of the Planning Act that gives power to the Provincial Policy Statement (2014).


Archaeologists and developers work from a Provincial Policy Statement that broadly outlines the minimum standards for this work in Ontario. The PPS outlines what should be done in these processes. It doesn’t specify what should be in a plan to make it ethical, sustainable or ecologically safe; it just requires that you have a plan. I assume that plan has to be approved by the Minister for Housing and Development, or a Municipal planning office in accordance with that Policy Statement. Hopefully those people care more about health, safety, food sustainability, and heritage more than money. Unfortunately we know that for the majority who are interested in development or resource extraction, they are mostly concerned with money.

Section 10 of the proposed Bill 66 makes Archaeologists just as nervous as Environmentalists. Fortunately, because of the outcry surrounding the possibility of Greenbelt development this proposed legislation is being pulled by the Provincial government. It is disturbing that this Bill passed the first read, I’m sure a new version of this will be back within the year that specifically ensures the safety of the Greenbelt (to keep voters happy). If you want to know more about the position of the professional Archaeological community on these proposed changes made by Bill 66 check out this Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc. blog post.

There’s more!

This is where the other part of my RA-ship with the MOA comes in. I will be helping with the development of a new collections storage program at the MOA that uses the best-practices for conservation and ethical management from the Sustainable Archaeology project. Because there is little incentive for those who have artifacts in their collection to store them somewhere safe (not a random storage locker/shipping container) I have been tasked with coming up with some ideas on ways in which the museum can do that.

The MOA had done some research with a consultant on how to make this collections storage a sustainable program that relies very little on grant or government funding. However, it means presenting the benefits for storage costs and finding the quantity of clients needed to keep the program running. The more developers, archaeologists, survey companies, and resource extractors that decide to store with the MOA the more it can support those who need safe storage but do not have the resources.

Collections Storage at the MOA would see artifacts brought in, processed to Sustainable Archaeology standards (boxing and preservation steps), then the client could have these objects digitally processed. The implications this has for Indigenous communities pursuing repatriation efforts is substantial. Because many heritage institutions will not grant communities their ancestral property without a conservation/preservation plan, First Nations are often left with little options. Collections Storage at the MOA is looking to have very clear holdings and collections agreements, these could be set to community’s needs and expectations, including clarity on their ownership.

Working at the Algoma University Archives, there were artifacts being stored there that were not a part of the collection. They were from Missanabie Cree First Nation and the community needed climate controlled storage to preserve what they had. Collections Storage at the MOA has the future potential to provide these services plus more. The use of the digital lab opens up opportunities for the artifacts to be recreated digitally through 3D scan or with a 3D printer. While communities build their infrastructure to support their own museums, libraries and heritage centres Collections Storage can digitize artifacts to make available to the community for teachings and research.

The MOA’s relationships with the local Indigenous communities mean that their policy is informed by members of that board from these territories. Items can be stored in-line with cultural protocols if the community provides a request or a planned ceremony. I also suspect that as the museum gets more involvement from Indigenous clients that their policy will transform as needs present themselves.

The current MOA web site needs to reflect the new changes that have taken place between the institution and the Sustainable Archaeology program, this was another area of interest my supervisor was having me look at. Because of my recent experience in both Digital Research Methods and Digital Public History, I have had some experience now with web development and content generation using WordPress as a medium to host some of that content. The museum currently uses WordPress and I’ve been told at some point I will be working with that site. However I haven’t tackled this yet because there are so many eyes that this content needs to be read by and there is not yet a consensus on what this new program should be.

I’m looking forward to the next few months of work and how I will see the institution change during this time. I will be updating my blog when I can, I will be blogging more about Museums and associated structures and I move through ‘the machine.’



Ending Digital Research Methods; Merging Digital Public History Skills and Digital Research Methods

Using Mathematica for Passion Projects

As the semester comes to an end I find myself looking through the Wolfram knowledgebase, trying to use features that I feel are neat or interesting. I want to be able to find a way to make the software enhance my research abilities, and through many of the lessons I have seen small snippets of what Wolfram Mathematica can help me do. The last classes focused on photo image processing which always peaks an interest of a public historian. Images are universal, a great way to tell stories across many lines, they are fun for the public to interact with, and can be easily digitized. Maps are similarly gifted with the ability to tell stories. I recently completed a project using Story Maps and realized I could do more using Mathematica. Even if I can’t make a ‘story map’ yet using these tools, I can easily create my own map images or complete research for my Story Map in GIS.

My recent Digital Public History project had me working on a Story Map version of the journal Chief Shingwaukonse, from Baawating (Sault Ste. Marie, ON). He made a journey from his home to Toronto in the 1850’s to petition for funds to give his young people a schoolhouse and teacher. A decorated veteran of 1812, a treaty negotiator, and spiritual leader, Shingwauk’s archives are regularly accessed. However, there is only a typed copy of his journal, I thought it could be more engaging for younger people, or those who wanted to see the journey, the chance to go on the journey with him. I got curious after our class on Maps on how I could blend these mediums together to make my project better. (Blog about this project here)

I began to play around with maps of Canada. Why? For myself, maps can be reminders of settler-colonial occupation and they can be tools for digital storytelling and cultural knowledge sharing. I found an interesting feature that allowed me to see established settler borders at earlier stages in history, within their current state. It was interesting to compare.


I started with 1850, the time of my project and a short time before confederation. The borders are not much different than they are at present day. However, if I go back further to 1700 there is less settler-occupied space. It was neat to play with.

Another interesting feature I looked at was a layer that shows more land details. This could be applied when talking about traditional land uses, climate migration, or relationships to geographic landmarks.


I kept the border highlight to emphasize Canada, but when looking at the land details it really demonstrates how something whole was sectioned.

Wolfram Mathematica allows you to drop geomarker pins on your map. This is a similar styling to what was used in Story Maps. There is capability to fully customize the look of your pins and add pop-up tools and mouse-over tools, but I haven’t been able to use them effectively yet.


On this map I dropped plots for a few of Shingwauk’s stops; Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, and Toronto. Even if I can only make something marginally interactive right now, I can always use the Wolfram Alpha knowledgebase to do research for my Story Maps or Processing designed maps.


As it is a US-based knowledgebase I expected some of the smaller Northern Ontario towns not to have data. This can be easily rectified with Google, but it was neat to try it in Mathematica and see how I can use it for research.

How I Hope to Use My Skills- All the Possibilities Batman!

I hope to work in historical research consulting, or work to optimize collections for digitization. I feel like my small introduction to Wolfram Mathematica will help me in both of these endeavors. With historical research consulting I can use these tools to prepare and organize my research. I can create my own search tools and functions that will save me search and writing time in the future. I can even create research area specific RSS feeds to keep me up to date on my interests, or that of the client’s. I can pull from Alpha, then organize biographical and legal information to help prepare client reports. I can create visual tools like charts, graphs, maps, and word clouds to illustrate research data in ways everyone can understand.

If I’m interested more in image digitization, I can use Mathematica tools to help me provide researchers with the best information on images. I can pull several artworks from the same artist, analyze and compare their colour use, or layer them on top of one another to compare period style/shape use. There is also the famous use in Public History of ‘ghost image’ or landscape fade sliders. These are great tools when we want to show architecture alterations, landscape change, or soviet photo editing transformations. If I’m scanning text, I have now learned better ways to pick that text for keywords and subjects. This can be useful for filling out collection scope and content information in Archival settings.

The possibilities in which I can use Wolfram Mathematica professionally are endless. I plan to continue with the lesson textbook available on their website, as well as using their examples and forums. It’s been a great course and I’m sad it is over, but I’m looking forward to stepping into Interactive Exhibit Design with less digital fear and more skills to offer project development, research and organization.

Digital Public History 9808- Walking with Chief Shingwauk; Making a Story Map, Reflections and Plans for the Future.

Reflecting on Walking with Chief Shingwauk

My Digital History final project was created using the Story Maps medium. I chose to focus on a historical journal I worked with while on Robinson-Huron treaty territory in Baawating (Sault Ste. Marie). Titled Little Pine’s Journal, this text is one of the only pieces of writing by the original Chief Shingwaukonse (Little Pine). Written around 1851-1853, translated and printed in 1872, and then transcribed in 1985; this is a journal that has passed through many hands. The 1985 version of this journal is the only copy available digitally through the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre Archives at Algoma University. The journal is heavily accessed because it chronicles the journey of Chief Shingwauk to fulfill his vision of having a school built for his people. The journey from Baawating to Toronto would be extremely long in those days, especially for a man in his seventies. He speaks feeley about how he feels throughout the journey, commenting on the stark divide between the rich and poor and calling attention to the hypocrisy that prevailed within the ‘Christian Faith.’ I called my map Walk with Chief Shingwauk.

Chief Shingwauk was not only an instrumental contributor to Canada’s victory in the War of 1812, but a visionary in the realm of Indigenous land resource rights and a strong champion of Indigenous rights to education. He had a vision that is often referenced by the community known as the ‘Teaching Wigwam,’ where children would be educated in both the Anishinaabe and settler ways of knowing. Shingwauk felt cross-cultural education was the only way for his people to survive in a rapidly changing world. However, what resulted was not Shingwauk’s vision but an assimilationist policy that would seek to erase the worldview that he held so dear. He was not a fluent English speaker, nor did he live in a place and time where photography would be readily available. After finding out the approximate time period in which he left for Toronto I had to then decide how I wanted to select photographs or if I wanted them in my story at all. Photographs offer a way for the user to imagine what the Chief could have seen. There were no photographs in the original journal. The only photograph available of the original Shingwaukonse was from the Robinson-Huron treaty signing, and that was taken in 1850. I decided to pull approximate images from those areas in the approximate time, usually from newspapers or local archives with some digitized collections.

If I had more time, I would have liked to transcribe most of the journal on to map points down to the street-level. However, because Toronto and Hamilton have gone through extensive architecture and city planning since Chief Shingwauk’s visit, I would have to do some more extensive archival research. When I realized I couldn’t make my Story Map as ‘authentic’ as I would like and that the map would be very time consuming for me to create in a way that reflected Shingwauk viewed this part of the world at that time, I decided I could use this map for younger students at the elementary or high school level. While working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, many of the groups I toured through the centre were at this age range and this could be a great way to talk about Shingwauk’s vision. Many of the students have a hard time visualizing how far of a trip that was before the 21st century. It is also a tough sell to have kids read a typewriter document and this could help them interact with the story more by scrolling through short sections of the journal. Without reading the journal and knowing why Shingwauk raised money for what would later become a residential school make it hard to understand the context of his vision.


Refocusing on a younger, and a mainly non-Indigenous audience I was able to go through the journal in a time frame more suited to me learning and playing with Story Maps. I did face a challenge when going through the text, I had to make sure I could have the audience understand that the Ojibway term being used was meant for a place or a person’s name. There are footnotes added in the type copy that often explain names or the context of Shingwauk’s words. The entire journal was a translation from his Anishinaabe dialect, he did not speak English and his son left some of the words as literal translations from the Anishinaabe concept of that thing. Like the “Fire-Wagon,” meaning train or the “Black-Coat,” meaning clergyman. I felt in many of those instances it was appropriate to keep the Chief’s original phrasing but explain in brackets or expand below the Chief’s quote to give context that a younger reader might need. I often tried to do this with photographs.

What I Would Love to do

Increasingly more Indigenous youth are living off-reserve, in urban areas where they have limited access to cultural supports or relevant life-stage teachings. From my own experience, having a community that is so advanced in cultural digitization has helped me feel more connected to a part of myself that I have found hard to nurture in urban Southern Ontario. It also helped me feel Haudenosaunee while I was in Anishinaabe territories, I could look at language or history videos from Kahnawà:ke to remain connected. I knew others who studied with me from other territories, those who had similar digital ties to home were much happier than those who came from communities without that infrastructure. With this particular project, my choice of base map had to include settler-established routes of travel because this is what Chief Shingwauk would have used. Shingwauk was venturing into a densely settled area compared to his region and much of what he would witness would be odd to him. Ideally, I would love to be able to edit the location names on this map to include Shingwauk’s spellings for places. I spent a little too much time trying to mess with the base map and became frustrated with the medium.I settled for one of the simpler base maps offered in Story Maps that had roadways and railways, both of which I needed to communicate the journey. A problem with this was that these routes may not be accurate in terms of what was actually there in the 1850’s.

If I had further time and financial resources, I would try to find more accurate photographs from the time period that Shingwauk was in Toronto. Even try to find some street views or interiors of chapels he visited. I think it would be an even cooler idea to commission a Garden River artist, preferably a descendant of Shingwauk to draw some scenes from Little Pine’s Journal and embed them into the Story Map. While Story Maps is not an Indigenous developed medium that acts in accordance with Indigenous concepts of ownership and cultural safety. Story Maps can be adapted to tell stories that are okay for non-indigenous audiences to interact with. Stories that are more spiritual in nature can be developed outside of Story Maps with other mediums. The reason why I would prefer more culturally sensitive stories developed into interactive maps outside of Story Maps is because of the uncontrolled nature of the sharing tool. Making something public that shouldn’t be would be further damage to communities, rather than creating something to be used for teaching and cultural benefit.

For these stories I would use something like Wolfram Mathematica, it has great mapping features that would allow me to customize maps for a more Indigenous-based audience. Wolfram has the capability to embed and create interactive tools, like sliders. Pins with hover options would be neat to show artist renditions of the stories, the possibilities expand when I explore more coded options. Using Processing is also possible and can offer lots of customization, the Wolfram Alpha knowledgebase is very useful for adding calculations, information and gathering patterns that may add extra dimension to the map experience.

If you want to know more about the fun things Wolfram can do with maps, check out my next blog post!



The Future of Digital Public History- Virtual Museums, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Worlds.

The applications of Augmented and Virtual Realities have been a buzz industry in the last decade. Mixed reality media covers medias from fully real world based, to full rendered digital immersive experiences. Devices like the Oculus Rift allow the user to experience video games and movies in entirely new perspectives. It won’t be a true VR experience, as these games and movies will be limited to the ways in which they were filmed and designed. Like in Alan Craig’s book, these mediums are not meant to be watched or listened to. They are meant to be experiences in physical space that resemble reality with fixed points and objects, but with far more possibilities for interaction and manipulation. The Oculus goes further than the standard VR system application, it allows the user to experience concerts in immersive VR, as well as schedule rendered VR meetings in virtual space.

The Virtual Museum of Canada has an interesting range of exhibits that explore different applications of digital public history. Although it is not a truly immersive virtual experience, I understand the reason for the naming. There are hundreds of suggestions for exhibitions to look at on the main page. I looked at a few different exhibits, the first being a site dedicated to boatmaking in a small Newfoundland community. It takes the form of a small webpage and holds several different stories from the community, as well as a photo gallery. If community histories are what interests you, hundreds of small town stories are available in the Community Stories section of the Virtual Museum site. The other exhibit I looked at took the form of a short video game experience designed by the Montreal Science Centre. In the game I am a ‘Biohacker’, who combines biological and technological innovation at the Montreal Science Centre. Currently they have you developing an AR tech that utilizes glasses, however during the development and testing of your invention there is a disease outbreak that brings about the apocalypse. Through the game you must use your knowledge of science (biology, DNA, viruses) to stay alive and solve for the cure. Morbus Delirium is playable here. Lastly, I checked out an exhibit called The Soundtrack of Our Lives. This exhibition seeks to trace the evolution of Quebec society from the last century to the present day through the sounds Quebecers experience in their daily lives.

Basic AR experiences like Pokemon GO are the standard of what most interactions with this medium are like. More advanced projects make use of wind, smell, and sound reproduction technologies to accompany the visual augmentation- creating a full experience that goes beyond just watching or listening to something. The article by Dima, Hurcombe, and Wright looked at the integration of a haptic touch sensor for replicating touching and feeling the objects. Their findings showed that this way of interacting with artifacts produced a deeper connection for the viewers beyond just looking at the object. However, I find myself looking at this from the view that these patrons were probably more excited to interact with this technology that it of course enriched the experience beyond viewing the object at a museum. Their initial consultations showed similar concerns from heritage sites, that guests would loose interest in the post and would care more about interacting with the technology, that the technology would be the attracting factor and would bring the museum over capacity, and ultimately my concern would be the costs of maintenance and the wear and tear that happens with guest use.  I also think that touch could be replicated with replica materials, that it isn’t necessary to have touch integrated into the technology.  However, the Hutson article expanded the possible applications for this technology to bridge to the medical field, in that case touch cand feeling are extremely valuable and needed.

The Dawson, Levy, and Lyons article spoke about these 3D worlds having a sense of presence. Especially when these virtual worlds show a place that may have existed in the youth of an elder. This article focuses mainly on the repatriation of cultural and ancestral knowledge through replicas and the rendering of 3D/virtual experiences. In my last blog I spoke at length about the idea of digital repatriation, it is a ‘half-option’ that many Indigenous communities are exploring while they wait to set up their own collections facilities. But what was interesting about this article was that it focuses not just on the viewing of artifacts or ancestral environments rendered in virtual spaces, but transporting the viewer directly into that world. What was interesting was the idea of creating the same experience that was created for the Inuit but from the perspective of settler Europeans. This at first made me uneasy, but it was to see what types of creative licence Europeans took while describing Innu life to their people.


I loved the photograph of the Inuit elders wearing their 3D glasses, and the responses from them on seeing their traditional whalebone dwellings made me interested in seeing the further uses for this virtual technology in Indigenous capacities.

I would love to one day have a virtual tour made for Indigenous youth. It would look at the art museums of the world, maybe have a few on popular ‘wonders of the world’. It wouldn’t be reclaiming knowledge, it would be bringing those experiences from elsewhere. We are not often given the opportunities for travel and this could make a big difference in the life of someone who has only seen their fly-in community or maybe Winnipeg when going to a doctors appointment. Although there is the physical aspect missing from these mediums, it does have the ability to make meaningful connections and create lasting experiences. Although the upkeep, maintenance, and access to reliable internet infrastructures will keep current Indigenous communities from utilizing and accessing this technology. I hope that future interactions of this tech will become more portable and cost-effective for everyone to use.

We Have the Technology! Material Culture & Digital Reproductions

The focus in museums, cultural heritage centres, even archives has been increasingly digitization and how that can improve access or usership to material artifact collections. It sounds like the best idea, make a replica of historical objects so that the public can interact with them in a closer proximity. Copies can be made and there is no risk to the original. However it is interesting to think about meaning over form. Which is more important to the end-user and which is more important to the wider communities of people that these materials represent.

Looking at the uses of 3-D printing and scanning technologies it is easy to see why they are a good thing. The British Museum collection is amazing and a great representation of the abilities that 3-D scanning has for long-distance viewing of artifacts. Locally, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology houses this technology in their Sustainable Archeology wing. It’s been used to reconstruct site pottery created by Iroquoians who inhabited the grounds centuries prior. Instead of using authentic pieces and gluing them together. A 3-D model is rendered of each piece, then they are stitched together digitally- no glue required. The result is a reconstructed piece of pottery that gives contemporary researchers more context.

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The 3-D printer has to run regularly to keep the lines fresh in the machine, giving volunteers and staff the opportunity to make models often. Scaled-up arrowheads and bones show the potential the printer has to reveal heard-to-see details. Heather Hatch showed me a really intricate reproduction of  beaver skull. It had been rendered in the 3-D x-ray machine, then cross sectioned to reveal the detail inside without having to cut the genuine skull. For a museum that regularly engages with school groups that require more hands-on activities, the reproductions present more opportunities for visitor-artifact interaction.

Most of our class was focused on both the feeling of reproduction being less than the genuine, and the ethical implications of sharing and/or reproducing cultural items. The Mukurtu platform, and further the Documenting Mi’kmaw Sovereignty project demonstrate the ability for this technology to be utilized in culturally informed ways. The technology of Mukurtu is available to be adapted by many communities who want make their heritage accessible to community members only. Further, Mukurtu  permissions for specific community members who should have the cultural access to those materials. The Sustainable Archeology department of the Museum of ontario Archeology is currently holding collections for a diverse range of groups that need protected storage. The Museum board is also heavily informed by local Indigenous community members, who represent a significant portion of the board’s composition.

This is significant for the possibilities of digital repatriation. The ultimate goal for many communities is reclaiming cultural items and community artifacts, then holding those within the community. However, there are often barriers to that process. Communities could remove collections from institutions who have wrongfully acquired those items, or revoke collection agreements they feel do not benefit their communities. Instead of institutions telling them they cannot take those items because they have nowhere to keep them, they can now instead store them in a safe facility within an environment more informed by Indigenous practise. The collections agreements are open to cultural protocols and different levels of interaction. If a community would like their items safely packaged and stored, prayed and feasted quarterly, never displayed or digitized, this is totally possible. They can keep these items in a place like this while a community heritage plan is developed and implemented. Alternatively, if the community was open to interaction with digital platforms the Museum could have the items scanned and uploaded to a closed community platform like Mukurtu. This way the cultural sovereignty of the community is maintained, members have access to their items, with associated teachings and community permissions, and there is a storage agreement in place that protects the items as well as ensures its proper spiritual care.

Talking about what other types of history can be digitized, I once spoke with an elder in Baawating (Sault Ste. Marie) who told me stories about what the wildlife density used to be like in that region. The sounds, smells, and vegetation would be impacted. It would be interesting for AR applications or for local museums to have historical environmental immersion experiences. The Bushplane Museum in Sault Ste. Marie had a few different immersion experiences, one where the audience experiences a season of forest fighting in Northern Ontario. Complete with lightning storms, smoke, wind, and the depth of 3-D Wildfires ! A 3D Adventure makes for a memorable experience. The travelling immersive film experience, SESQUI, also has the capability to recreate Turtle Island environments of centuries past.

When technology is used in response to the needs of Indigenous communities with them involved in policy, and with their cultural needs addressed, the possibilities are wider. Institutions providing affordable and culturally considerative spaces with optional and adaptive digital services are steps towards reconciliation. Recreating objects digitally does not replace the physical, but it allows contemporary crafts people and material culture artisans the ability to understand their artform’s origins. It could bridge to urban community members, or those in isolated areas to their cultural teachings. Not every interaction between Indigenous peoples and cultural heritage institutions has to be negative, there is a way to ethically operate and adapt Western practise to the needs of communities across the world. Technology also has the ability to reconstruct items and environments no longer available in their original forms. They may not be truly authentic, but can offer context and understanding to the lives lived before.



Digital Research Methods- Using Wolfram for fun, Waiting for the Click.

So far we have been learning about functions of Wolfram Alpha that are useful for research applications, which is great for work. But as a Public Historian, not a hard H academic, I have been looking into what else the program can do.

Wolfram has a lot of interesting uses for your daily life- creating nutrition labels has been my favourite, but you can also compare pokemon and manage your board game epics within this software (my D&D DM was a hard sell but I’ll get him).

The nutrition information wa an unexpected find, but in the Wolfram Alpha search engine you have the ability to find out all kinds of information about food. Why do I care about this? Well, I used to be about 150 pounds heavier and stick to a pretty strictly informed diet. This feature has been helpful for foods that do not have adequate labelling information, for comparing food nutrient value, looking up recommended nutrient values, or even estimating how much food you need to cook for the number of people you have over for dinner.

Nutrition tableburger compare

How could the nutrition information be valuable for research? Well, I primarily work with Indigenous histories and the relationship with food is complicated. Before invasion and outside government interference, Indigenous communities across Turtle Island had very different nutritional habits. This could be useful for looking at health trends, and comparing that to the average nutritional intake. It could also be useful for looking at the diaries of historical persons, if they kept a log of what they ate the researcher could make assumptions about health and energy levels on that recorded diet.

Now for something more in the realm of fun. Wolfram has a lot of different data information, including Pokemon. We touched on this in class last week, but the pokemon information could be organized with relevant information and stats. This does not seem academically useful, but academics can have hobbies- like catching and battling pocket monsters. Or if you were a speedrunner who has programmed a taskbot for a particular type of Pokemon run, you can compile pokemon stat data and compare pokemon at different levels.
What I’ve done here is find the entity association for Pikachu, then I found out all the property associations for Pikachu.

PikachuProperties It is possible to get listings of the strongest pokemon by generation as well as create a dynamic chart to display the power differences in attacking and defending pokemon.


I’m not sure when my click with Wolfram will happen, or if it already has. I find myself able to read most of the language but still find it hard to identify and solve errors without the extensive help of Alpha.

Digital Public History, PodCasting, walking tours

For the last couple weeks I have been working on my podcast episode. I have never really enjoyed the sound of my voice but I’ve always envied podcasters. I delved more into my research of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchises, focusing on the development of the third. What I found out was that after the development of the third began, they thought of some real issues of authenticity. They reached out to my ancestral First Nation community to get more cultural knowledge, but they ended up making more of an involved partnership with the Mohawk people of Kahnawake.

I have my set-up quite nicely at home, but I have been finding it difficult to both like my own voice and feel confident in my podcast topic. I was feeling insecure because my focus is more on contemporary history. But as I thought about it, one of the most interactive forms of media today is video games. It is widely consumed by people of all backgrounds and even mobile devices have had historical based games developed for them, making their reach wide. In doing research for my podcast I found out that Ubisoft works often with historians, even having on permanent Digital Historian who also works on game design and development. He even ives guest lectures on the use of history in the public space through digital media. This shows how diverse a skill set that digital historians can have.

In thinking about our walking tours, I know I was excited to use technology to build something interactive. History is often so museum focused, people are interested in the institution. But I have always loved when history is consumed and delivered in non-traditional ways outside of the museum. While I was in the Ottawa/Gatineau area a couple years ago I took a walking tour called Indigenous Walks. It was focused on telling Ottawa history from an Indigenous perspective. It was lead by an Indigenous person, and we mostly talked about and looked at commemorative pieces from an Indigenous point of view.

It was really interesting to examine Ottawa from a purley Indigenous perspective, hear what commemoration in the area means to the, what the streets mean to the, and most interestingly what the historical institutions feel like to them. We did not take a look around any museums while on the walk, but we did reflect on what those spaces mean for a lot of Indigenous folks in that area. I had gone on, as well as hosted Jane’s Walks in the community of Sault Ste. Marie. It was a great way to learn more about Downtown from the people who had lived there all their lives. The Jane’s Walk I hosted covered the Residential School history in Sault Ste. Marie, and it was often attended by folks who went to integrated classes with the students in town, spouses or relatives of survivors, who added to the conversation around the Residential School’s impact on the community.

The Museum Hack tours that promise an enjoyable museum experience for those who ‘don’t like museums’, is an interesting concept. I know a lot of folks, including myself, thought it was a but campy to try and by ‘cool’ on a museum tour by breaking museum rules that are in place for reasons that keep the integrity of the collection inact. But I can see the appeal of creating a non-formal tour that allowed for more interaction with the museum space and free dialogue. Those things can get people talking about museum spaces, why are they not museum people? What can museums do to become more attractive to these people? Museums will never know unless they host events that appeal to different audiences.

Digital Research Methods, A small experiment in word & n-gram frequency

I was going through the previous notebooks looking for how to use these skills and to understand the language better. Leading into concordances I was having a hard time putting everything together and understanding why, getting me a little lost. So I decided to play around with the functions we have learned so far on a different set of speeches from my youth/teen years during the George W. Bush Presidency. After I was finished practising these skills over the past week, I feel much better going into this one. For my experiment I chose George W.’s first State of The Union address and his second.


Looking at the dates of these two speeches, we will obviously see a difference in their tone and content. I thought this would be a fun example because of the stark contrast.


The complement function shows us what is in the first set that is not in the other, the intersection function shows us what is in both. This makes a quick compare of documents easy to do without having to read the whole thing. It’s also useful if you are  doing some broad research for a time period and want to know what common things government or policy-makers were talking about. Word clouds give a more non-academic audience a good idea about the differences in context that surrounded the G.W. Bush Presidency, they are also great for researchers who respond to a more visual style.


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I had noticed a lot of similar words between speeches, I played around with an older activity using pastWords. I used the word ‘century’ and was a little mortified by the results.


N-grams are great for researchers to avoid more cold reading of documents. There’s nothing worse than having to go through documents for hours on end, only to find nothing of relevance. These small term groupings can help me find out the context of individual words better, but without doing more reading than necessary.


These grouped frequencies show me more than the individual word frequency does with commands that are just as short. If I were searching for a particular term , or how that specific word relates to others in the speech, I could group them into bigrams/trigrams as well. I could look further for what comes before or after a certain word, or words.


I played with Mathematica further using the Wikipedia Functions. As someone who likes to edit and engage in the Wikipedia community, this function really interested me. Especially the functions that allow the researcher to pull text from the Wikipedia article, find the answers to specific questions about the page, and even the links made to that page. Why is pulling text from a Wikipedia article useful for a Public Historian? A lot of equity issues replicate themselves in Wikipedia articles because they are edited by the public. It could be useful to compare articles of different gendered people, people of colour, look at how an article has evolved by grabbing text then grabbing it again. It is also useful to see what backlinks are attributed to an article, to get a sense of its content origin or what types of sites are associated with your research subject. It’s also a great springboard for further research.


Searching the article text with a typed question is really cool, for this activity I asked Wolfram for the Wikipedia information related to ‘what conspiracies involved Bush?’ and ‘what initiatives were proposed by Bush?’. I also asked for important or key words/terms to be highlighted.


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I am excited to keep expanding my research skills with 7-grams and the concordance function, which I’m still playing with. But I already can think of ways that this class can help me with research and organizing my finds. I’m really enjoying practising the language.

Digital Preservation, Sharing, and Crowdsourcing; Digital Public History

This week in Digital Public History, we are looking at the application of the web 2.0 and its implications for Public Historians. This is something I have become increasingly interested in as social media integrates itself into the daily life of the urban, Western individual. We have such a wealth of lived experience and perspective on the present and past provided to us at every second of the day for the first time. Anyone can start a blog, stream video, start a social media profile, post a comment. Organizations and government are creating mass amounts of file data. Public Historians will have to one day decide which material is kept, where it will be stored, and will have to come up with compatible file formats to continue to utilize those files.

File compatibility software, ever-expanding clouds, spare VCRs- all things that I’ve relied on in my previous archival experience. I’m currently learning Wolfram Mathematica software in my other course, Digital Research Methods. We learned about n-grams and text searching in my classes before our discussion, it was cool being able to reference my other learned skills and my work experience in Digital Public History. It was even more interesting to read the older piece by Rosenzweig and see how far things have come.

The internet has given us more information at our fingertips than ever was available before. It’s weird to think back to the volumes of encyclopedias that used to live in the glass cabinets at my grandparent’s house, and how I would have to comb through several indexes to get the information on something I can now find in 3 seconds with Google Assistant. There was also this fear in the early 00’s about the authenticity and permanence of digital-born content that doesn’t seem as urgent in our time. Sure, there is the buzz around ‘fake news’, how news and web information/infotainment sites are creating politically-charged and sometimes very inaccurate claims. But historians know that this has been something that has been around since the penny press. We also now know that nothing is ever truly deleted from the internet.

We are facing the issue now of constantly updating technology that grows outdated quicker and quicker, 20th century formats that are rapidly degrading, growing bandwidth needs, and increasing file sizes. Archives are already places that are overwhelmed with physical collections and the costs of maintaining them. Digital collections pose a whole new challenge for folks who haven’t been trained on how to preserve digitally-born content, do not understand the issues of long-term hosting of online collections, or have material that can no longer be read by their current equipment.

When we migrate file formats to save records are we losing anything?

“Vinyl in the music world is one of the most reverential ways that you can experience this music. It’s very hard to pause vinyl. It’s not like CDs and then digital and then streaming where you are in control…you can stop whenever you want, you can pick and choose. Vinyl is dropping the needle, sitting down and paying attention. And I’m sure you can say ‘Oh, there’s some nostalgia thing of laying on your stomach as a teenager and looking at the album cover and liner notes and reading who’s on there,’ and that may be lost nowadays to a lot of teenagers. But I think at some point if you love music, no matter who you are you will get to that point, you will care who played bass on track three and who produced the B-side of this record. That’s for people who really love music.”- Jack White, Musician & Record Label Owner

Music, movies, and video games have all gone digital. In the past year I have bought no physical game copies or blu-ray discs. I have been exclusively purchasing 4k movies online and preordering all my games via the console store. I usually listen to Spotify while driving or on the bus, but I listen to vinyl when I need the experience. In class we mentioned the Titanic video tape, how there were two. Fun fact, I know someone who had never seen the second half of Titanic because their parents had a rule about going to bed after the first tape. After class, I was listening to my favourite gaming podcast Kinda Funny Games Daily and they actually touched on this topic for the release of the Playstation Classic. The hosts mentioned the sound of a tube tv turning on, the static, the curve of the screen, and I realized I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I heard that sound. Does it feeling different now matter? Does this take away from authenticy? I don’t think it does, I don’t think my 11 year-old nephew will miss the static of the tv turning on when he tries out my SNES classic or emulates it on his PC. I don’t think it changes the content of the game in any way, since you can play it in the original resolution and the content hasn’t been modified; the generations of the future won’t miss the small nuances of the past they haven’t lived.

The Public Historian in the age of the web 2.0 was an interesting thing to think about and discuss from Foster’s article. I feel like the skills of Public Historians will continue to be in demand through the age of digital-born history. Yes, the internet seems to be more public driven and this scares traditional historians who think there is a ‘true history’ but I think that it is valuable to have the public asking historians hard questions about why we chose certain histories as valid and mark others as trivial. I see the museum as a place of critical examination and community discussion, not as a place to be quiet and stare at things, and accepting interpretations as they are. But I’m a nerd so.

Crowdsourcing. All Public Historians have to do is make the public care and hope they participate! SO EASY, RIGHT? NO. A lot of thought has to go into allowing the public to participate in a project, there has to be a lot of thought about what work the public be doing, if the heritage organization will be providing any training, what platform they are going to host this project on, how long they have the funding to keep it going, and ultimately what the level of engagement will be for volunteer work. I thought it was neat that the Nova Scotia archives included a mini style guide on their project home page. I think that publically crowdsourced are great for hobbyists and those looking to connect with their local history, but they can also be great ways for students to build history and archival skills.

I happen to know about a cool project happening this October that is a collaborative effort between Huron College at Western, the Woodland Cultural Institute, and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  They will be having course-enrolled history students practise their transcribing and digitization skills while helping these organizations digitize their collections and develop their databases further. I’m happy to say that I’ll be giving some contextual talks to this class and be travelling with them to the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre in October to help with the project.

I enjoyed this week and am looking forward to building my podcast episode. I can’t decide between talking about Assassin’s Creed III, in which there are Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language speakers and voice actors. I would talk about their use of a Kanien’kéha consultant, issues of representation, appropriation, then talk a little about Indigenous representation in video games (if I have time). My other idea was exploring Androgyny and Gender Fluidity in music and high fashion (specifically the 1960’s-1980’s). We will see where the research goes!


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