HomeNEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant Narrative

NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant Narrative

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Enhancing the Humanities Through Innovation

This Level II project works with a cache of nineteenth and twentieth century Moroccan Jewish documents in order to develop novel ways of conceptualizing interactive digital humanities in international and multilingual environments. Two facets of the project chart new territory in digital humanities. First, as research agendas are increasingly conceptualized on a global scale, international ethical codes and legal constraints must be negotiated between local and visiting stakeholders. Accordingly, this project will explore moral and intellectual property (IP) rights issues as they exist at the intersection between U.S. and international contexts. A particular focus is the appropriateness of Creative Commons (CC) and similar licenses to the mission of promoting access to Moroccan material. We propose that documentation of this process in Morocco will provide a useful record of potential problems and solutions that will be faced by others who hope to digitize humanities collections in developing countries.

This project will explore, develop and document model procedures for: 1) determining the copyright status of unpublished and published documents according to Moroccan and U.S. laws; 2) engaging in dialogue with local stake-holders and institutions (e.g. museums, libraries, foundations, publishers) regarding public access to unpublished and published documents; 3) permitting and controlling access to digital collections according to applicable fair-use legal standards and CC practices in both countries so that on-line resources can be made available to the widest possible communities of scholars, students, and laypeople. Based on preliminary investigation of Moroccan copyright law we are certain the Morocco collection includes hundreds of documents that will have open-access status due to their age (e.g. from the 19th century) and provenance (e.g. unpublished community announcements), For these, the joint Moroccan-United States team will work to ensure that unencumbered distribution is possible. Other published documents may be subject to more restricted electronic access and publication. For these we will develop academic fair-use protocols and, where feasible, work with current copyright holders to have documents released under the least restrictive CC licenses possible. This project will result in a prototype digital archive of documents that responds to local needs while providing a valuable resource to global researchers.[1]

Second, this project will make use of free and open-source technologies to involve international scholars and local community members in all phases of digitization. We will develop a prototype of a distributed and collaborative environment that brings together an advisory board of international scholars and community stake-holders to work on the preliminary survey that will select documents for initial digitization. Whenever possible we will make use of open source software and freely available web-based tools. We will also develop an interactive web-interface that provides access to between fifty and hundred pages that will be annotated and translated into English. The pilot site will include a multilingual translation function and provide space for public queries, conversations, and input regarding what kinds of documents would be most usefully mounted in later phases of the project. We plan on using the open source Omeka digital collections platform to develop the web interface, which supports interactive features such as commenting and tagging and can be extended using plugins. We will develop an open source Omeka plugin for translation and display of TEI-encoded documents using the Google AJAX Language API. Finally, at all phases of the project, we will coordinate our work with established on-line resources in the digital humanities related to Middle East Studies (e.g. teachmideast.org) Jewish Studies (e.g. ybz.org.il), and web-mediated Moroccan Jewish communities (e.g. dafina.net). The goal is to build a model in which integration with existing networks is built into all phases of digital humanities projects.

As a contribution to scholarly research and community documentation, this project also responds to novel approaches to public archives and to the discovery of new documentary collections related to North African societies. Historians and anthropologists now mine official documents, newspapers, literary genres, community records, and other unpublished documents to rewrite the history of North Africa in local and global contexts. Such studies have relied on established archives, other public institutions (e.g. libraries), and recently discovered private collections. In this process, the scope of the “archives” has come under reconsideration, both through the rethinking of conventional sources and through the investigation of new ones. At the same time, local communities have been instrumental in identifying and using such collections to document their own history.

The collection of Moroccan documents associated with this project, therefore, represents an ideal laboratory for exploring the intersection between the international legal parameters within which open-access values must be negotiated, the development of collaborative processes and platforms, and international scholarly research in the digital humanities.


Environmental Scan

Fitch provides a comprehensive survey of IP issues regarding the digital humanities.[2] Sullivan has considered legal and ethical issues related to the digitization of intellectual works of the Maori of New Zealand, with particular attention to protecting IP rights of the community and to the inclusion of the community in the creation of a digital library.[3] Covey has presented methodologies for determining copyright status, acquiring permission from copyright holders, and working with international publishers on digitization projects.[4] Hirtle has discussed a methodology for determining U.S. copyright status in twentieth century works published in the U.S. and abroad.[5] Several digitization projects in the United States, including the Stafford Archive at Lewis & Clark College, provide a foundation for dealing with IP rights in the domestic context. The ACLS report, Our Cultural Commonwealth documents current possibilities, challenges and frameworks in the digital humanities, with an emphasis on the development of open standards and robust tools.[6] However, no systematic studies exist that serve as a guide for U.S.-based organizations seeking to build digital libraries of materials originally produced and published outside the U.S. and currently residing in a foreign archive. Leveraging the scholarly, technical, and legal expertise of the project team and advisory board, and working in dialogue with Moroccan experts and stake-holders, we will develop a model that adapts and extends current best practices in IP assessment and CC licensing beyond North American and European contexts.

Social web technologies have begun to play a role in the development and enrichment of digital archives. This phenomenon has been labeled “Archives 2.0,” a concept that captures not only participatory technology but a new ethic of community involvement in the creation and management of archives.[7] Michigan State’s NEH-funded Samaritan Scroll project engaged cultural stakeholders in the design process of a historical digital archive.[8] To date, most projects have used asynchronous communication techniques such as comments, wikis, and tagging to foster interactivity. A recent experiment by Dan Cohen using Twitter to solve a historical mystery signaled the possibility of using the real time web to bring geographically dispersed experts around complex challenges in the humanities.[9] Given the multiple languages, genres, and communities associated with the Moroccan archive (see “History and Duration of the Project” below), this project presents many such challenges. We will develop strategies for an international team of scholars to use widely available social web technologies for communication, (e.g. Twitter), document and image sharing (e.g. Scribd and flickr) and multipoint interactive videoconferencing(Lewis & Clark, as a NITLE member, has access to Elluminate) to facilitate smooth gradations between real-time multimedia communications and linked conversations over the longer term in the selection, translation, interpretation, and annotation of documents in the collection. We will also build on current research that addresses issues related to Google discoverability and targeted uses of digital resources in order to ensure the utility and sustainability of international digital humanities collections.[10]

This project represents a contribution to, and an advancement over, previous efforts in the digital humanities related to the Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East. The most comparable project was undertaken by Le Centre de la Culture Judéo-Marocaine (Belgium) and resulted in the development of a static and minimally annotated on-line collection of catalogued documents and images related to the Jewish communities of Morocco. Another related project, Historical Jewish Press, at Tel Aviv University resulted in an on-line archive that includes a searchable collection of historical Moroccan Jewish newspapers. The Genizah Fragment Project at the University of Pennsylvania works with an international collaborative model that brings together documents and scholars housed in the United States, Europe, and Israel. The website for that project provides users with some capability to search, view, and compare rare medieval Jewish documents from North Africa and beyond, but that project deals with a different time period and is not fully interactive.

Our proposed project complements existing resources by expanding the set of documents available on-line and by providing a more focused snapshot of the textual history of a single Jewish community. As importantly, our project aims to develop an interactive and dynamic model of digital humanities that situates scholars and local community members not only as end-users, but also as collaborators in the ongoing development of the digital resource itself. 


History and Duration of the Project

This project brings together Lewis & Clark College’s considerable experience in digital humanities with a unique opportunity that emerged from the project director’s ethnographic fieldwork in Morocco.

The Watzek Library at Lewis & Clark College is a national leader in digital humanities at liberal arts colleges. The College has pioneered digital access to the literary archives of William Stafford, Poet Laureate of the United States and National Book Award Winner. Working with the literary executor of Stafford’s estate, Lewis & Clark College’s Special Collections has digitized the full contents of Stafford’s first two books of poetry, all of the drafts of each poem, and audio-video records of Stafford presenting selected works (see attachment 1). The website, which includes digital imagery, literary criticism, and expansive lesson plans, is being used by students and scholars of every level. This digital humanities project has been funded by The William Stafford Family and the Lamb Foundation. Watzek Library has also created and sustained an innovative database of ceramic art, which is designed for use by artists, arts educators, scholars and the general public (see attachment 2). Developed to fill a void in contemporary ceramics digital image collections on the web, Access Ceramics merges a traditional academic digital image collection's metadata capabilities with Flickr's openness and flexibility. This unique model has been disseminated through conference presentations and publications in the digital libraries and visual resources fields. In 2008, the project received a NITLE Instructional Innovative Fund Grant and most recently is the recipient of a 2009 NEA Access to Artistic Excellence Grant. In addition, in early 2010 Special Collections received a Library Services Technology Act grant to support the Oregon Poetic Voices project, a publicly accessible archive of recorded poetry.

During the course of ethnographic research in Morocco in 2004 (funded by a Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant), the project director was given access to thousands of texts that the local Jewish community of Rabat had collected for ritual disposal (see attachment 3). As the Jewish population of Rabat has dwindled over the past several decades, community leaders were faced with the situation in which unpublished and published Jewish documents were scattered across the city in abandoned synagogues, empty apartments, shuttered schools, and other urban places previously occupied by Jews. The community’s decision to collect these materials followed the established Jewish custom of treating all sacred texts as human bodies meriting internment in designated graves or mausoleums (genizahs). The category of sacred text extends well beyond explicitly religious genres to include documents associated with virtually all facets of Jewish social life (legal, educational, philanthropic, economic, literary, life-cycle, etc.), which are regulated by Jewish law and mediated by Jewish languages (Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic) and translated into other ones (French). The collection, therefore, represents the collective archives of the multilingual Jewish community of Rabat as it was transformed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The collection includes both published, but rare, materials and hundreds of unique and unpublished documents (e.g. community records, announcements, pedagogical materials, poetic manuscripts, liturgical supplements), many of which are written in endangered language of Judeo-Arabic (written in the Hebrew script).

The collection is of value to researchers for at least three reasons. First, the collection includes previously unavailable materials that pertain to what was once a major, but as yet fully studied, urban Jewish community in North Africa. The cache includes manuscripts, personal correspondence, public records, published broadsheets, and other materials of local provenance that were produced and circulated during immediate precolonial, colonial and postcolonial periods. Second, the genizah collection includes materials that were originally produced throughout Morocco and beyond (e.g. Vilna, Livorno, and Jerusalem) and that date back to the nineteenth century and possibily earlier. The collection, therefore, is crucial to current lines of research that situate local North African histories, Jewish and otherwise, in longstanding global networks of communication, commerce, and travel. Third, the collection contains hundreds of documents in the endangered language of Judeo-Arabic, and especially its Moroccan dialects.

The first phase of this project was completed in 2004, when the project director deposited most of the collection at the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca (http://casajewishmuseum.com/); a selection of several hundred documents resides temporarily with the project director at Lewis & Clark College. The project director has begun an informal survey of the documents and photographed 200 exemplars (see attachments 4 - 9). Preliminary notes and images from that research provide a foundation for the current project. The documents were deposited in the museum with the understanding they would eventually be digitized; the museum director has given approval for this project (see letter of commitment). The project director has conducted extensive ethnographic research within Morocco over the past fifteen years, and has developed a wide range of community, academic, government and other institutional contacts, within both Jewish and academic communities, that will facilitate the successful completion of this project.


Work Plan

Phase One: September – December 2010.
The project team at Lewis & Clark College will: 1) Begin developing strategies and tools for the use of social technologies, mediated across multiple languages, in collection survey, cataloguing, selection, translation, and annotation; 2) Begin reviewing and selecting hardware and software for collaborative communication and digitization. We will refer to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) consortium to adapt best practices for encoding machine readable texts in the multiple languages represented in the Moroccan archives; 3) Begin investigating IP issues in consultation with David Ellis, General Counsel to Lewis & Clark College faculty at the Lewis & Clark Law School (e.g. Chris Wold who has considered Moroccan law), and other leaders in the field of U.S. and Moroccan copyright and fair-use law. 4) Begin conceptualizing a web interface to the document collection that  utilizes TEI formatted documents and translations, allowing users to comprehensively search the contents of the collection, flexibly view documents, translate documents between languages, annotate and comment, and provide feedback regarding what other kinds of documents would be most usefully mounted in the future; 5) Begin digitizing pilot documents currently residing with the project director at Lewis & Clark College.

Phase Two: January – May 2011.
The project director will be in Morocco, where he will: 1) Coordinate review of IP issues and CC options with local experts and lawyers. The project director has established contacts in Moroccan government ministries, in the Moroccan National Library and Archives (Director: Driss Khrouz), and at academic institutions (University Mohammed V, which houses the country’s major law school), all of which will expedite this investigation and minimize its costs. The goal will be to establish a methodological tool, in the form of o synoptic flow chart of factors to consdiser, for determining the copyright status and licensing options with respect to documents that are under the jurisdiction of both Moroccan and U.S. law.[11] 2) Begin to assess the local technological environment, in regular consultation with library and technology staff at Lewis & Clark College; 3) Develop working protocols for collaboration with Museum staff, community liaisons (working with Counsel of the Jewish Communities of Morocco and the Foundation for the Preservation of Moroccan Jewish Heritage), and local scholars (working with the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange). During this phase, Doug Erickson, the Lewis & Clark archivist, will travel to Morocco in order to survey the local technological environment, install digitization technologies, and further develop the communication protocols for the use interactive social technologies.

Phase Three: June – August 2011.
A team composed of the project director, a research assistant, and museum staff will begin implementation of collaborative strategies in the survey, cataloguing, selection, imaging, translation in English, and annotation of fifty to one hundred documents, following IP and CC guidelines developed in earlier phases of the project. We are in communication with the Decapod Project, and hope to use this Mellon-funded new technology for document imaging. We will use TEI schema to mark up the text included in the archive.[12]

Phase Four: September – December 2011.
The project team at Lewis & Clark College will: 1) Conduct a final review of the copyright and fair-use status of digitized documents; 2)Complete development of the end product and begin beta-testing its on-line functionality in consultation with the advisory board and other identified scholars and community members; 3) Develop concrete dissemination strategies (see below); 4) Compose the final White Paper. By the end of this phase, the pilot digital archive will be ready for public use and ongoing expansion.



• Oren Kosansky, project director and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Lewis & Clark College, will supervise and be actively involved in all phases of the project. Oren brings expertise in the textual, linguistic (Hebrew, Arabic, French), cultural and historical facets of the project. Oren’s established contacts in the Moroccan scholarly and Jewish communities, and his extensive experience working in Moroccan academic and Jewish institutional contexts, provide the practical foundations for this project. He will devote full time to the project during the summers (May – August) 2011 and 2012, and devote part time (10 – 15 hrs/week) to this project during the academic years 2010 – 2011 and 2011 – 2012.

• Doug Erickson, Head of Special Collections and Archivist at Watzek Library, Lewis & Clark College, will help to create and define best practices for appraisal, selection, digitization, and migration of digital content for the web interface. Doug will also help in setting up and stabilizing the digitization and migration process in Morocco.

Mark Dahl, Associate Director for Digital Initiatives and Collection Management at Watzek Library, Lewis & Clark College, will lead the development of the web interface and provide consultation on metadata, technology, and interactive web activities throughout the project. He and his Digital Services team have expertise in web design, web programming, metadata management, and social web technologies.

David Ellis, General Counsel to Lewis & Clark College, will provide legal consultation on issues pertaining to U.S. copyright and education fair-use law.

Samantha Stein, an honors student at Lewis & Clark College, will serve as a research assistant with the implementation of the survey, cataloguing, selection, imaging, translation, and annotation of documents. Sarah is fluent in Hebrew, has working knowledge of Moroccan Arabic and French, and will have completed a semester abroad program in Morocco. She will work full time May – August 2011.


Final Product and Dissemination

The final products of the project will include: 1) A White Paper documenting the process and outcomes of the project activities; 2) A methodological prototype for determining the copyright, fair-use, and licensing status of documents subject to both U.S. and foreign law; 3) A prototype website, mounted on a Lewis & Clark server, that provides interactive access to a translated, annotated, and searchable set of fifty to one hundred documents from the multilingual Rabat genizah collection.

Project outcomes will be disseminated through: 1) Publications in academic newsletters (e.g. Middle East Studies Association Review); 2) The development of Google discoverability strategies, including postings on relevant academic list-serves and on-line groups (e.g. Sephardi/Mizrahi Studies Caucus Discussion List) and links from and to Moroccan Jewish community web-sites; 3) Communications with major academic libraries and institutions with corresponding interests (e.g. The National Library of the Moroccan Kingdom; Ben-Zvi Institute (Jerusalem); Institute du Monde Arabe (Paris); Library of the Center of Advanced Judaic Studies, University Pennsylvania); 4) Participation of the project director and team members in conferences related to digital academic technologies (e.g. EDUCAUSE, Digital Humanities 2011, THATcamp); 5) Publication of an article documenting project findings in a journal (e.g. D-Lib Magazine) related to digital libraries.

The project director and team members will continue to maintain and develop the final product after the grant period. The project director will return to Morocco during the summer of 2012 to reassess the collection and to continue digitization following the prototype developed during the grant period. Funding for that trip will be sought from the following granting programs, with which the project direct has a demonstrated record of success: The American Institute of Maghrebi Studies, The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, The Fulbright Program; and Lewis & Clark faculty research grants.

Longer term plans include the application of the prototype developed in this project to other private and public collections in North Africa. The project director has already identified two other collections: 1) a second private collection recently donated to the Museum of Moroccan Judaism; 2) a private collection in Tunis that contains nineteenth and twentieth century books and documents related to that city’s Muslim and Jewish populations.

[1] On Moroccan copyright law related to Electronic Access, see “Collection of Laws for Electronic Access,” http://www.wipo.int/clea/en/. On international Creative Commons initiatives see, http://creativecommons.org/international. Emergent CC initiatives in the Arab world are being explored in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia.
[2] Megan Fitch, The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age - Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (Washington, DC, 2000).
[3] Robert Sullivan. “Indigenous Cultures and Intellectual Property Rights.D-Lib Magazine. 8:1, http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may02/sullivan/05sullivan.html (May 2002),.
[4] Denise Troll Covey. “Acquiring Copyright Permission To Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books. Digital Library Federation and the Council on Library and Information Resources”, http://www.diglib.org/pubs/dlf105/ (October 2005).
[5] Peter B. Hirtle. “Copyright Renewal, Copyright Restoration, and the Difficulty of Determining Copyright Status.” D-Lib Magazine. 14:7-8, http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may02/sullivan/05sullivan.html (July/August 2008).
[6] Our Cultural Commonwealth (American Council of Learned Societies, 2006).
[7] Joy Palmer. “Archives 2.0: If We Build It, Will They Come?” Ariadne. Issue 60 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue60/palmer/  (July 2009).
[8] Jim Ridolfo, et al. “Archive 2.0: Imagining The Michigan State University Israelite Samaritan Scroll Collection as the Foundation for a Thriving Social Network). < http://wide.msu.edu/content/archive/> (Accessed 10 March 2010).
[9] Dan Cohen. The Spider and the Web: Results, http://www.dancohen.org/2009/04/29/the-spider-and-the-web-results/ (March 2010).
[10] See, for example, Sebastian Heath, “Diversity and Reuse of Digital Resources for Ancient Mediterranean Material Culture” In G. Bodard and S. Mahony, eds., Digital Research in the Study of Classical Antiquity (Farnham, UK, 2010), pp. 35-52.
[11] This methodological tool will be developed with project participant and legal counsel, David Ellis, and be modeled on protocols like those developed by The University of Texas System for domestic contexts. See, http://www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/copypol2.htm#rules (“Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials”). We will produce similar guidelines with respect to applicable Moroccan law.
[12] According to its developers the Decapod “will be an inexpensive attaché case sized hardware/software solution that can be readily procured and assembled and taken into the stacks or out into the field by local staff or volunteers to quickly and unobtrusively capture the material and deliver it in usable format. It will be open-source, easy to use, and will provide an out-of-the box method of digitizing small to medium archives of scholarly material.” (http://sites.google.com/site/decapodproject/Home). A functioning version of the technology is scheduled to be available in May 2010. Since this technology may not be available, our budget reflects the costs of currently available hardware and software.