Oral Literature in the Digital Age: Archiving Orality and Connecting with Communities/3

Oral Literature in the Digital Age: Archiving Orality and Connecting with Communities  (2013)  edited by Mark Turin, Claire Wheeler and Eleanor Wilkinson
Multiple Audiences and Co-Curation: Linking an Ethnographic Archive of Endangered Oral Traditions to Contemporary Contexts by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews

3. Multiple Audiences and Co-Curation: Linking an Ethnographic Archive of Endangered Oral Traditions to Contemporary Contexts edit

Judith Aston and Paul Matthews

DOI: 10.111647/OBP.0032.04.

The fieldwork recordings edit

Unusually for an anthropologist of her generation, anthropologist Wendy James has been consistent in her use of audiovisual media in her fieldwork. She began this process in the mid-1960s, whilst working as a lecturer at the University of Khartoum, initially using silent cine footage, reel-to-reel audio, black and white photographs and colour slides to record interviews and document her observations. On subsequent visits, she has recorded on audio-cassettes, Hi-8 video and most recently taken photographs on a mobile phone.

Whilst initially making recordings for research and teaching purposes, to act as aide memoires to her written analytical work and to enliven her lectures, over the years James has come to recognise the wider relevance and value of these recordings. This is linked to the way in which her role in the field has been transformed. Initially, she went into the field as a participant observer working on her doctoral thesis under the supervision of the anthropologist Evans-Pritchard. However, in the mid 1980s, widespread fighting broke out in the region and this led to her becoming a historical witness of the effects of war and displacement on a marginal community. Subsequently, she has acted as a consultant for a television documentary as part of the Granada Television’s “Disappearing World” series on war (MacDonald 1993), and became a humanitarian advocate and report writer for various agencies working in the region.

In documenting aspects of James’ intermittent fieldwork from the mid-1960s through to the present day, the recordings shed light on major world events in the latter half of the twentieth and early part of the twenty-first century, from the perspective of an anthropologist who has built a strong relationship over the years with her informants. These informants come primarily from the Uduk-speaking people of the Sudan-Ethiopian borderlands. Over the years, James has made it her business to become highly conversant in the language and has built friendships that go beyond the standard remit of shorter-term anthropological fieldwork. One does not have to spend long with her materials before this becomes apparent, with her written analyses also reflecting this deep engagement.

Whilst these recordings are inevitably framed by James’ research interests as a professional anthropologist, they also offer insights into a period of African history as seen from the perspective of a minority people whose lives have been transformed by civil war and repeated displacements. Once living together in relatively stable rural hamlets, the Uduk-speaking people are now dispersed across national borders, with some living in countries as far afield as the USA. James’ recordings reveal how the survival of a vernacular language can help to create a powerful network of overlapping memory and practice, through which old patterns and traditions can re-appear even in the most “modern” of circumstances.

Linking written analysis to fieldwork recordings edit

In her written ethnographies and associated papers about her fieldwork, James recognises that the personal stories of the handful of people that she knew well, and who helped her in her original research in the 1960s, “weave in and out of the whole tragedy of the Sudanese civil war and the deadly choreography of its entanglements with the struggles in Ethiopia” (James 1999 [1988]: xi-xii). She has always tried to write about the events and changes that have occurred as far as possible through the words and experiences of the people themselves and has expressed frustration that “the discussion of emotion, culture and language is greatly hampered by the format of written ethnography alone, and even by the written version of the recorded and translated vernacular” (James 1997: 124). It was this frustration that led her into collaborating with Aston, and which led to the creation of a website (Aston and James 2007) to complement her most recent book on her fieldwork (James 2007). In the preface to this book, she writes that the website is there to add “emotional tone and a sense of the character and personalities” of people quoted in the book (ibid: xix).

The book is the third of a trilogy and looks at the recent history of displacement in the region from the year in which the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) was founded in 1983 up to the year of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudan government and the SPLA of January 2005. Through the inclusion of personal testimony, it shows how the Uduk-speaking people, originally from the Blue Nile region between the “north” and the “south” of the Sudan, have been caught up in and displaced by civil war. Whilst some responded to the situation by defending their nation, others joined the armed resistance of the SPLA. Many found temporary security as international refugees in Ethiopia, whilst others opted for resettlement further afield in countries such as the USA. The book shows how the paths of those that have survived have converged and diverged in different places at different times, in such a way that there has not been a permanent severing of ties or cultural belonging. It shows how links have been maintained across borders and continents through modern communications and where possible through the recreation in new settings of traditional forms of storytelling, music and song.

The website contains a selection of songs, which are quoted in the book, as well as some maps of the region and a series of photographs that chart the journey of displacement from the rural hamlets of the 1960s to a semi-permanent refugee camp in Ethiopia by 1993. Its main component, however, is a series of thematically arranged video clips, which illustrate various kinds of instrumental music and dance referred to in the book and which give access to a number of interviews and conversations from the refugee communities in 1993 and 2000. These engage the viewer in the subjectivities of James’ informants by showing their reflections on the past and their hopes for the future. The viewer can select to view a specific clip in the Uduk language alongside a summary in English of what is being said, with references to places in the book where James provides further context on the issues raised.

Although the website does include some footage from the 1960s, its focus is on the refugee situation prior to repatriation in 2007–08. Having completed this website, we are now planning a more ambitious project, closely linked to the creation of a digital archive of James’ recordings. This project is to create an online presentation, which incorporates a wider range of her materials and is organised according to the principles of thematic and temporal navigation. This presentation will enable users to follow pre-authored pathways through the materials, whilst also allowing them to engage with materials in a more exploratory fashion. Whilst contextual commentary will initially be provided by James, user communities will be invited to respond to this commentary and to create their own additional pathways. Provision will also be made for James’ informants to contribute their own recordings to the presentation, as a means of extending the narrative as they begin to document their own experiences.

Adding contextual commentary to fieldwork recordings edit

Having recently retired from departmental duties, James has now begun the process of organising and preparing her fieldwork recordings for the creation of a more complete digital archive. In the past, scholars of all kinds have deposited their materials in libraries or museums or left them with family papers. The recordings have usually been separated from academic papers and notebooks, and there has been little provision for still images, moving images and audio to be curated as a single entity. Digital technologies have, however, opened up a new set of possibilities through which a body of work can be kept together and preserved in its entirety. These technologies also offer the facility to link fieldwork recordings to contextual commentary through the creative use of metadata.

Mike O’Hanlon, Jeremy Coote and their colleagues at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford have pioneered the creative online archiving of photographs and items of material culture from the southern Sudan region. The images are presented elegantly in contemporary modes of information design, and are an invaluable resource accessible to anyone with computer facilities. The Museum is also sponsoring projects that bring old ethnographic films into view along with the contexts in which they were taken—see Alison-Louise Khan’s Oxford Academy of Documentary Film project, “Captured by Women”. James’ earliest cine footage from the 1960s is already associated with that initiative—as part of the larger project of creatively archiving her materials as a whole.

There are some striking initiatives online today, which also offer possible models for our project. There is the Sudan Open Archive of the Rift Valley Institute, for example (administered by Dan Large), focusing mainly on scarce or vulnerable written materials and the ephemeral literature of the development agencies. Visual images at present are limited to those already embedded in text as illustrations. Very different in style is the substantial and culturally focused website “Mursi Online”, built around the decades-long ethnographic work of David Turton among the Mursi of south-west Ethiopia. Here we can see film clips, photos, textual descriptions and analysis, with news of ongoing development issues; and as a real innovation, the site now includes contributions from two Mursi men themselves, who visited Oxford and were able to undertake some training in making videos and maintaining the site.

Whilst our project draws on aspects of all these models, it plans to go further by inviting users to enter a world with which they can empathise despite its initial “otherness”. We aim to achieve this by focusing on the conversational nature of James’ recordings, to create an organised selection of materials that draws on collections contained in the archive to present a world of experiences. This world will be brought to life through sound and imagery with the fieldwork recordings speaking for themselves wherever possible. First and foremost we want the user to be able to engage directly with these recordings and for the story of James’ ongoing fieldwork to unfold through this process. In order to achieve this aim, we are exploring different ways to provide contextual commentary on the recordings, to give temporal and thematic coherence to the experience without locking the user into overly didactic or linear forms of delivery.

This contextual commentary is based on short statements from James about the nature of the conversations and activities documented in her recordings, along with a series of longer reflections on her research and experiences. By including this additional material within the archive, we are building on Mikhail Bakhtin’s ideas about polyphony. Bakhtin proposed that Dostoevsky’s novels did not combine a “multitude of characters and fates into a single objective world, illuminated by a single authorial consciousness” but into “a plurality of consciousnesses with equal rights and each with its own world” (Bakhtin 1984: 6). Such an approach allowed for different social styles to be presented through the characters, as opposed to there being an all-pervading style dictated by the author. At the same time it also recognised the personality of the author, along with social and historical context, as being an important source of interpretation and meaning. In presenting the story of the events and changes that have occurred over the course of James’ fieldwork as far as possible through the words and experiences of the people themselves, the materials will be presented in such a way as to express tensions as well as cohesion. In this sense, the point of view of the anthropologist as contextual narrator will not have final authority, with contradictory ideas and different styles of speech being able to co-exist in a more dialogic form.

Multiple windows and juxtaposition edit

As a means of avoiding overly didactic or linear forms of delivery, we are building on Lev Manovich’s ideas about spatial montage (Manovich 2001) by using multiple windows to enable different combinations of materials to be presented on screen at any one time. Manovich argues that the computer offers a new type of cultural interface based on the aesthetics of multiple windows and graphical user interfaces. This aesthetic offers an opportunity to move away from “a logic of replacement” towards “a logic of addition and co-existence in which images can co-exist simultaneously” (ibid: 325). Unlike a book or a film, in which the structure is fixed and pre-determined, computer-based systems can be multilayered and more open-ended, enabling different pathways to be created and multiple perspectives to be explored. The key point here is for the contextual materials to be incorporated into the archive as separate data (whether it be text, audio or video), which can be placed alongside the fieldwork recordings as required without being edited in with the recordings themselves.

We are using multiple windows to present different combinations of materials to serve different purposes. For example, users might want to compare recordings across different time periods or they might want to explore a series of interlinked themes. Another possibility would be to compare recordings of actual events with interview footage of peoples’ memories of these events. The materials are based on various combinations of observational recordings, interviews and informal conversations across audio, still and moving image formats. Flexibility can be built into the system to enable users to focus on a single medium or to look at them together. This comparative approach will enable the recordings to be viewed in relation to each other, to help emphasise aspects of continuity and change across time, as well as multiple points of view across a range of themes. Our aim is for this approach to help avoid the pitfalls of fossilisation, by making the system dynamic, reflexive and updatable.

The reason why we are making a distinction between the archive as a whole and the online presentation of an organised selection of James’ fieldwork recordings is closely linked to ethics. Whilst on the one hand we want to provide access to the materials to as wide an audience as possible, there are constraints that go against this imperative. Although James has found that there is a strong desire amongst Uduk diaspora communities to gain access to her recordings, often this is something that they want to do in private, as the materials are politically sensitive. Some of the materials document conflict within and between communities, which is ongoing in a region where tensions persist. We therefore feel that it would not be appropriate to make the full range of the materials openly accessible as an online resource at the current time. This is an important issue on which we have begun to seek advice from related projects such as the World Oral Literature Project and the Endangered Languages Project. One solution that has been suggested is for us to consider using a password system to provide different levels of user access to the online materials (cf. Nathan, this volume).

Aston and James’ strategy for the website was to focus on the less sensitive aspects of the recordings, showing the creative use of available materials such as plastic jerry cans to recreate musical traditions, and the importance of song and storytelling as a means of keeping memories alive. The organised selection of materials will extend this theme of resilience by enabling further engagement with the ways in which displaced people thrown together are able, or at least are trying, to turn their experiences into art, into fun with language, dramatic narratives, provocative enactments, witty songs, resurgent dances, and music. At the very least, they will act as a testimony to the Uduk-speaking peoples’ awareness and self-knowledge of their predicament, to reveal how their deeply impassioned modes of understanding are based on conscious and ongoing reflection on their position in the world.

Our use of multiple windows is also integral to the principle of keeping the materials open to alternative interpretations both from other scholars and from the people themselves. The work at the Pitt Rivers Museum on their southern Sudan collection, for example, has led to one diaspora community re-purposing the materials for its own objectives[1].

These communities may be interested in downloading materials to incorporate into their own websites or to keep as private documents, which trigger other memories. Keeping the digital archive as a separate, but linked, entity to the online presentation will open the recordings up to alternative interpretations in the future. Additionally, by storing the contextual commentary within the archive and keeping it separate from, but linked to, the actual recordings, the option is there for this commentary to be included in these alternative interpretations.

Fluid interfaces and the communication of discrete points edit

In our paper for the World Oral Literature Project workshop on “Archiving Orality and Connecting with Communities”[2] (Aston and Matthews 2010), we presented work in progress as a means of illustrating our approach to developing the archive. Aston showed examples of her earlier work with James around spatial montage and fluid interfaces, with Matthews reporting on how we are applying these ideas to the development of the archive and associated online presentation[3].

A selection of Aston’s examples is described below, followed by a more up-to-date summary of where we have got to in terms of scoping up our technical approach to the development of the archive and online presentation.

Through her work as a new media producer from the mid-1980s onwards and her subsequent role as a lecturer in new media production at the University of the West of England, Aston has developed her ideas around the potential of fluid interfaces and spatial montage to create new possibilities for narrative exploration. In order to create a world of experiences, with which people can empathise despite its initial “otherness”, Aston has been pushing the boundaries of interface design to create flexible ways of engaging with fieldwork recordings that are poetic as opposed to informational in approach. This builds on David MacDougall’s point that images that directly address the senses, such as photography and film, have tended to be used within anthropological discourse as a product of language or even a language in themselves (2006: 4). In challenging this convention of making fieldwork recordings subservient to the scholarly rules of writing, Aston has been exploring ways in which the sensory nature of James’ fieldwork recordings can be foregrounded to communicate specific points.

Working with the authoring tool Macromedia Director and subsequently Adobe Flash, Aston has created a series of juxtapositions that explore the application of her ideas across a range of James’ fieldwork recordings. These juxtapositions were designed to create a minimum amount of clutter on the screen and encourage the user to engage intuitively with the materials. Although very similar in overall approach, there are subtle differences in the interaction techniques used, in order to explore a range of possibilities. Whilst early examples of this work have been provided elsewhere through online publication (Aston 2010), more examples are provided here, to illustrate how they are feeding into the current phase of development[4].

There are six examples in total, with the last two containing additional contextual analysis in the form of audio narration provided by James. All of these clips were recorded by James unless otherwise indicated. Screenshots from these six videos are presented below; please see Online Sources for the web addresses of the full video clips.

The first example shows three video clips placed side by side, to illustrate a point made in one of James’ published papers about different ways in which the Uduk people remember traumatic events (James 1997). In the first of these clips, taken from the rushes of the Granada film (Macdonald 1993), we see Martha Ahmed[5] in a transit refugee camp at Karmi talking in a very matter-of-fact way about the recent shooting of her sister’s teenage son. This was a relatively recent incident and her report is very graphic. In the second clip, from Bonga 1994, we see Peke Shigwami[6] reflecting on the disappearance of her daughter, who has been missing for several years. The anxiety that she is suffering is very evident in her interactions with James. In the third clip, also taken in Bonga 1994, we see Nathaniel Gurempa[7] using storytelling to remind people of a moment of hysteria in which a group of Uduk had a vision of angels taking them back to their homeland. This was an event that happened a while ago, which can now be recounted as a story, to the evident amusement of his audience.

A fluid interface enables users to move between these clips at their own pace and in an intuitive way, to enable close investigation with the materials in ways that would not be possible within a sequentially-edited film. In addition to this, the different use of language across the three clips, along with the layers of non-verbal communication contained within them, create a much richer description than could be achieved through words alone. The user can click to focus in on a single clip and view subtitles as Martha, Peke or Nathaniel speak. If the user goes back to the three clips interface, the video carries on where he/she left off, making the experience more engaging than with more standard forms of a point and click interface[8].

Figure 1. Screenshot of “Three Ways of Remembering”. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

The second example shows how a single clip, such as the one of Martha talking about the shooting of her nephew, can be analysed in more detail, by placing the written transcription alongside the clip. The user can go to different sections of the clip by clicking on the corresponding section of the written transcription. In so doing, a detailed analysis of the relationship between the spoken word and the non-verbal communication that surrounds it can be made, in a way that is unique to computer-based multimedia interfaces. It was this potential to link written transcriptions to the actual recording from which they are taken that first attracted James to working with Aston and which has led to the current collaboration. From her earlier experience of acting as a consultant to the “Disappearing World” film on the Uduk (Macdonald 1993), James has written that “a film can record the facial and body expression of listeners as well as speakers; and the memory of ‘fear’ can be invoked even when it is not actually named by anybody” (James 1997). However, her frustration with filmmaking is that clips such as this become embedded within the structure of a sequentially edited narrative, thus limiting the possibility for in-depth analysis of individual recordings.

Figure 2. Screenshot of a single clip analysis. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

In the third example, the same clip of Martha is juxtaposed alongside a clip of the journey of displacement to which she is referring. This clip is of a piece of footage recorded by a French news crew in a temporary refugee camp in Itang 1990, in which Martha shows them the terrible conditions under which her people are struggling to survive. The user can watch each of these clips in turn or move between them at will, focusing in on a single clip as appropriate. Whilst toggling between full-screen and small-screen presentation of video clips is now standard practice on the Internet, the difference here is the facility provided for the simultaneous presentation of clips within a fluid interface environment. In this case, it enables recollections of past experiences and events to be presented alongside actual footage of those experiences and events.

Figure 3. Screenshot from video showing events and memories. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

Multiple windows can also be used to make visual resonances across time, as seen in this next example in which cine recordings from village hamlets in the 1960s are compared with Hi-8 video recordings taken in the semi-permanent refugee camp in Bonga, Ethiopia in 1994 and 2000. The comparisons have been carefully selected to show how certain aspects of rural village life were being recreated in the camp, at a time of relative stability compared to the previous traumas of constant displacement. Observational footage of everyday activities, such as making coffee, drinking beer, preparing grinding stones and playing music, are juxtaposed to show aspects of continuity and change across the two time periods. In the interactive version, the user can move fluidly between looking at each clip individually or making comparisons across time through on-screen juxtaposition. This video demonstrator, however, focuses in on the juxtapositions as a more direct way of making the point through linear video.

Figure 4. Screenshot of comparisons across time. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

This next example juxtaposes three video clips also recorded in Bonga: a mother and child preparing a grinding stone; two women working together; and a further clip of two groups of women performing the same activity. The clips can be played simultaneously or one at a time, via a simple keyboard command. Another keyboard command brings up an audio recording of James talking about the three clips and how the sound that they are making is very evocative of village life in the 1960s. She explains how there is a playfulness to the rhythms and sounds that are being created that is rich in meaning and resonance, both for her and for the Uduk people themselves. This audio narration can be turned on and off at will, always continuing where it left off, with the clips themselves conveying this sense of playfulness.

Figure 5. Screenshot of evocative soundscapes. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

The final example combines cine footage from the 1960s of the diviners’ dance with accompanying reel-to-reel audio. This material is then juxtaposed alongside video footage from the refugee camp, in which William Danga[9] produces from his hut a copy of The Listening Ebony (James 1999)[10].

A crowd soon gathers round as he starts to look at the photographs inside it and to reminisce on the events that they document. The juxtaposition provides a very suggestive link between past images and sounds and their current value, as the pictures that they are looking at are also of the diviners’ dance. This link is made explicit via James’ audio commentary, in which she explains that she was deliberately aiming to capture the reflexivity of them looking at these photographs, whilst she was making a video recording of them doing this. The multimedia presentation adds yet another layer to this, opening up further possibilities for reflexive engagement with James’ fieldwork recordings.

Figure 6. Screenshot of reflexive juxtaposition. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

Incorporating fluid interfaces into the current phase of development edit

The prior development of these demonstrator interfaces has inspired the technical approach that we have taken to the current phase of the project. It has been our basis for looking at how the archive might be organised and how metadata might enable this type of interaction more flexibly through the interface. A key concern of our current work, therefore, is to establish working methods that tackle the combined requirements of curation, archiving and the creation of exploratory interfaces.

We have found that James’ recordings can be quite thoroughly described using an organisation that encompasses the area of recording and the time (corresponding to research visits to the Sudan and to diaspora communities in the USA). Category and hierarchy need to then be divided and expanded into broader themes, more detailed keywords and specific people and events. One key requirement is to incorporate two kinds of semantics: those relating to the primary content of the media, and those relating to the subject of the conversation or focus of the activity portrayed. This is in order to extend our work around reflexive juxtaposition, such as an event paired with people talking about the same event. It will be necessary to distinguish between these two types at times, whilst linking them at others.

We are working with a colleague at the Oxford Academy of Documentary Film, who is helping James with the basic digitisation, logging and cataloguing. Logging of video is being done with Final Cut Pro, with clips then being imported together with audio and still images into the desktop media asset management system Expression Media. This enables metadata to be exported as XML and then transformed in order to structure the interface. Additional segmentation for video clips will be achieved using a tool such as Frameline47, with subclip metadata exported to MPEG-7 and integrated. In terms of interface technologies, we appreciate that Adobe Flash remains a very useful front-end technology for the manipulation and combination of media, and is widely supported. For this reason early prototypes were built using Flash with dynamic loading of media and metadata files from XML. At the same time we are exploring the potential of HTML5 native video to support the kinds of interaction we have envisaged with a view to longer term sustainability.

We have also been encouraged by the work of the Pad.ma project, a standards-based web platform for sharing ethnographic video accompanied by metadata and commentary. The Pad.ma tools let you look at video clips and scan through them, look at the whole object data and then go through to looking at timeline data. This is the type of interface that will allow the sharing and layering of metadata by different individuals over the web. Here we have applied these tools to the clip of Martha talking about her nephew to illustrate how it works.

Figure 7. Screenshot of Pad.ma prototype. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2012.

An outline architecture of the prototype system is shown below. The media catalogue is exported as XML, which is then transformed into a simplified subset of metadata as JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). This in turn is brought into the web application where filtering and clustering can be achieved using JavaScript. Thumbnails initially represent the media objects, which are then enlarged when the user selects items of interest.

Figure 8. Architecture of fluid data prototype. Image by Judith Aston and Paul Matthews, 2010.

In our HTML5 prototype, items may be selected according to theme and period/place, then brought into a media browser, which presents two main videos or images. A k-means cluster of resources according to metadata (with a set of binaries for each item reflecting inclusion or exclusion in a metadata term) results in the ability to juxtapose resources on the same theme by time and place. In this example, the selection of items within the music and dance theme collects two of James’ slides from the 1960s taken among the neighbouring Gumuz people just inside Ethiopia. They show a girl making music with holes in the ground at the start of the rainy season. The slides are accompanied by sound and video narration to provide further context and an immersive experience.

Figure 9. Screenshot of HTML5 prototype. Image by Judith Aston Paul Matthews, 2012.

We have begun incorporating narrative video fragments applied to specific recordings and to comparative clusters, which are based on themes. The next phase of work will seek to provide longer introductions to James’ intermittent engagement with the Uduk since the mid-1960s. These introductions will reveal the changing nature of her fieldwork over time and introduce reflexivity into the presentation of her materials. With metadata linking illustrative media to these longer narrations, the intention is to then provide a coherent guided trail through the material that the user may choose to sample or follow at length. We have successfully piloted the recording of narrative using a webcam while the collection is being viewed; this approach can also be taken with other commentators.

This chapter has demonstrated our prototypes and working methods for the development of an end-to-end system for the archiving and future exploration of an important ethnographic collection. As such, we are addressing the need for collections such as these to be humanised: for additional layers of meaning to be applied. We have also shown how metadata, carried through from the repository level, can be used to underpin media montage at the interface, with potential for the discovery of spatial and temporal contrasts and resonances. In mapping Aston’s ideas around fluid interfaces and narrative exploration onto Matthew’s knowledge of database systems and archive workflow processes, we are aiming to immerse our users in a world of experiences, through which they will gain insights into James’ fieldwork and into the impact of civil war on a marginal community.

We want this world of experiences to foreground the fact that many of James’ recordings are based on informal conversations at different historical periods, between the anthropologist and her informants and amongst the informants themselves. Through revealing the ongoing nature of these conversations and linking them to observational footage of everyday life and events, our aim is to remain true to the fluidity of oral tradition over time and to avoid fossilisation. This is why we have begun to record James’ thoughts and memories, as evoked by her engaging with the prototypes that we have been developing. In the same way that many of her recordings in the field are based on intermittent and ongoing conversations, we are aiming for her commentary to have a similar feel and to be grounded in an oral as opposed to literary tradition.

While we are fully aware that this is an ambitious project and that compromises will inevitably have to be made to create a coherent final product, we hope that its outcomes will go some way towards doing justice to James’ work and to fostering empathy with the people whose memories, hopes and enthusiasms are conveyed within her recordings. We also hope that this work will find resonance both within and beyond the academy, to increase understanding around the predicament of a marginal community struggling to make its way in the modern world. Finally, we hope that the approaches and suggestions offered here will provide inspiration to others working in related areas, whether as academic fieldworkers, community activists or interested bystanders.

References edit

  • Aston, Judith, ‘Spatial Montage and Multimedia Ethnography: Using Computers to Visualise Aspects of Migration and Social Division Among a Displaced Community’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11:2 (2010) < http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1479 [Accessed 24 October 2012].
  • —, and Paul Matthews, ‘Co-creation and Multiple Curation: Making an Archive Relevant to Contemporary Contexts’, paper presented at the workshop Archiving Orality and Connecting with Communities, (Cambridge: World Oral Literature Project, 2010) filmed and presented online: <http://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1092085 [Accessed 24 October 2012].
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. by Caryl Emerson (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1984) Orig. Russian ed. 1929.
  • James, Wendy, The Listening Ebony: Moral Knowledge, Religion and Power among the Uduk of Sudan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988). Paperback ed. with new Preface, 1999.
  • —, ‘The Names of Fear: History, Memory and the Ethnography of Feeling among Uduk Refugees’, Journal Royal Anthropological Institute N.S, 3 (1997), 115–131.
  • MacDougall, David, The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography and the Senses (New Jersey: Princetown University Press, 2006).
  • Manovich, Lev, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).

Films/videos edit

  • MacDonald, Bruce, dir., Orphans of Passage, Disappearing World (Granada TV, broadcast 18 May 1993).

Online Sources edit


Footnotes edit

  1. For example, an Anyuak group has copied material from the Pitt River’s site and used it to create their own website (see Online Sources).
  2. Held in December 2010 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Hunanities (CRASSH; see Online Sources).
  3. This presentation was recorded and has been made available as part of the workshop documentation on the University of Cambridge Streaming Media Service (see Online Sources).
  4. Whilst the paper in the Forum of Qualitative Social Research (Aston 2010) provides interactive examples authored in Flash, in the name of widening accessibility, we have attached video screen-casts of these examples to this chapter, via a series of online links.
  5. One of the key refugee women’s leaders, who had some years of schooling before the war. She has subsequently become a member of the Blue Nile state assembly.
  6. Her daughter married a rebel soldier in the first refugee camp. He took her off in a different direction when people suddenly had to flee from a later camp.
  7. Like Martha, he was educated at the old mission school and is a staunch member of the church community.
  8. Such approaches in which the video carries on where the user left off are rapidly becoming more commonplace, as the use of online video grows in sophistication. A good example is the facility to move fluidly between small and full-screen video on sites like YouTube, the difference here being in the employment of these interfaces within a multiple windows environment.
  9. One of James’ old friends from the 1960s.
  10. James had given this book as a replacement for the one she had given years previously but which had not survived the most recent journeys.