Sine Quærere Scire, being an account and description of @herdado's Digital Gardens.

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Sine Quærere Scire,

being an account and description of @herdado’s digital gardens.

Historical Narratives

The BDPN is the place where my trip through DH-land began. I didn’t know by then –may, 4th, 2012– that any other step would take me further from home than I ever been. Ernesto Priani, revered master of many philosophers, digital humanists, and procrastinators, and whom I aspire to refer to as a friend, had this idea: to apply an XML-TEI markup to as many mexican early modern literate texts as possible, in a digital collection called Biblioteca Digital del Pensamiento Novohispano, for which goal he developed a project at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where I was studying History. I came in to collaborate, and turned it another way around: as New Spain was much, much more than Mexico, I’d rather markup as many XVIIIth century Central-American texts as possible. I only managed to fully transcribe and markup three books, and published them with his support and that of the AFEHC. It was a great time, and it still seems to me it could have lasted longer…

Two years later, I met Gennaro Varriale at a congress in Lima. He invited me to the CEDCS, where Emilio Sola received my unrestful brain with open arms and open library. There I belong. And there Ricardo Chimal and I began to apply what I had learned at the BDPN, in a whole new project. Starting on 2015, Avisos de Levante emerged as a project to apply a digital markup over all the information collected, digitised, stored and openly given away to the public and to researchers from very different disciplines and backgrounds, from the CEDCS documentation centre and its promotion tool, Archivo de la Frontera. In multiple ways and shapes, a great deal of sensitive information was produced in the shores and waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the midst of the conflict between the Spanish Monarchy and the Sublime Porte during the XVIth century. Of this information –confidential or secret, as the case may be– there remain numerous examples preserved in Spanish and Italian state archives and libraries: we hoped we could transcribe and describe it, apply an XML-TEI markup over it and relate it to better understand its formation, its ways of circulation, and its expression of the Mediterranean peoples and frontiers. We developed a deep technical documentation, which is to be rescued while this documentation and its proyect achieves some attention… and some funding too!

Then, in november, 2020, Álvaro Casillas, a former trainee of mine at Avisos de Levante, who, by the way, has recently produced a huge PhD thesis on its subject –which I had the privilege to enrich with a map–, came to me with an offer: work in a digital project which director, Rodrigo Escribano Roca, would let us do anything we wanted with their digital materials, once used for their own purposes. Noticias del Viejo Imperio, 1860-1866 aims at studying in depth the impact that the Pacific Expedition and the subsequent Spanish-South American War had on the visions of the global cultivated by the spanish political cultures between 1862 and 1866. The project will also dissect the responses of the intellectual elites of every ideological tendency to those events, assessing the disputes and consensus that emerged around the transatlantic dimension of national identity and the role of the Americas in the geopolitical future of the Spanish state. I accepted almost at once. This is a lifetime opportunity, to take part in a fully-funded digital project and to have the possibility of experimenting, learning and applying –often erroneously, sometimes achieving goals– different techniques and tools. Even if its documentation is not of my personal interest, seriously hard work has taken us far beyond our expectations. This will last.

Digital Cartographies

My digital training includes knowledge on editing and printing processes, as well as design in digital environments, and my training as a geographer at the Universities of Santiago de Compostela and Nacional Autónoma de México provided me with the cartographic training necessary to digitise a XVIth century portolan authored by Agnese by means of vectorial redrawing, as an aide to Álvaro Casillas’ doctoral thesis, in order to represent the historical information systematised in it. Subsequently, I redrew following the same system a sheet of the Atlas Major by Johannes Blaeu to serve as spatial context for the second volume of the printed edition of the epistolary correspondence between the Cardinal Infante and the Count-Duke of Olivares, edited by John Elliott and Francisco Negredo del Cerro. In April 2021 I began the redrawing of two nautical sheets of the Dirección Hidrográfica de la Marina for the project Noticias del Viejo Imperio, 1862-1866, directed by Rodrigo Escribano Roca, in which I am currently working with the digital design, the preparation of technical documentation and coordinated management. All these cartographic realisations have been made available to the public on Wikimedia Commons, under different Creative Commons licence models, depending on the requirements negotiated with the authors of the works in which they are included.

Born from the ashes of the BDPN, the texts chosen to be published in its website caught the attention of Christophe Belaubre, who invited me to take part in the editorial board of the AFEHC. So a greater proyect began. For there are no such things as Natural Disasters: they’ve always been Social. Living in a country where the earth’s tectonic activity leads to frequent earthquakes, made me aware of the social danger of disasters; working at the BDPN, made me realise how many texts were produced in Central America during the colonial period on these matters. A highly seismic region with numerous active volcanoes, Mesoamerica has several catalogues of such events, both national and regional, as its main features and events have been also covered by global catalogues.

I decided by april, 2015, it was worth it to develop a fully self-funded digital project, –initially called TellGoat, for the latin Tellurica Goathemalensis Collectionem, now relaunched as ITMA, for the same Index Telluricos Medio-Americanos– in order to create comparative seismic, eruptive, and tsunami catalogues for this region in the Early Modern Era, and to edit and publish the printed, manuscript, cartographic, and iconographic documents relevant to the particular and joint study of these events. In addition to this, and thanks to the digital markup to be applied to these texts, the ways in which decision-making elites acted on those hazards and reacted to those events through public policy actions will be analysed as part of a most general “disaster dispositive”, activated every time the circumstances required it to. This catalogues, in addition to the edited archival documentation and all the byproducts to be put directly into the Public Domain, will serve not just today’s Central American societies, but also future generations who will need every information within their reach to better understand, act and react in disaster situations, as this events will keep happening anytime.

One more project emerged from those first steps: that of systematically digitising, by means of SVG vectorisation and GeoJSON markup, as many Mediterranean portolan charts as possible in order to allow new forms of analysis, comparison, and publication, a project in which the CEDCS will again be involved in supporting me, and Alvaro Casillas wil take a new role as project leader. Many approaches have been taken by worldwide specialists, but none has succeeded in removing “locational precision” as a barrier to chart analysis: we think we can. May we develop new techniques and software, or simply put into work all we have learned through the years, is still to be decided by the end of this year.

Data & Information Architecture

My interest in Information Architecture led me to work for a year on a digital project to rescue a mexican periodical, under an entrepreneurial approach. The experience was so negative for me, for my family and for those who followed me, that the decision to never again enter into a dynamic of this kind was categorical. I began to understand the full scope of this interest, when applied to historical information creation, transfer and reception. Two projects led me there. First of all, along with the development of Avisos de Levante, we created a research group called Trasegantes. First with Ricardo Chimal, and later with Álvaro Casillas, who trained with me at Avisos de Levante and who later invited me to Noticias del Viejo Imperio, we engaged in arduous discussions. From there, the restructuring of variants of the general XML language –TEI, RSS/Atom, GSGML, EAD3…–, and now of the JSON family, has resulted for different projects in a way of recognising the differences in the methods of creation, structuring, shaping, and transfer of information, and therefore the expression and transmission of knowledge by digital means. As a result of this, my first article on the subject in the journal Virtualis, and the book that Álvaro Casillas and I are writing together, which will hopefully be published by the end of 2023. Trasegantes got to its end by late 2015, when other personal projects made it impossible to keep on with our debates.

It was the perfect moment to try to apply all that I had learnt to a project of my own. But works came and went, and the time for that never came. Then, by the end of 2019, I came through an old history project over boundaries. From the Justinian premise «Territorium est universitas agrorum inter fines cujusque civitatis», the rest of the limiting concepts inherited from Roman Law were declined, with some alterations brought by custom. These ideas were changing, modified by practice, theology, national policies, geopolitics and discoveries, both scientific and spatial, until they were implemented in a complex and refined form in the newly discovered territories of America during the XVIth century. So this project, Limitis, destined to take up space in a drawer, has come to life again, turned into a knowledge base from which to weave together, not an arborescent or linear view of the history of borders, but a tangle of linked theses that shed new light for new eyes to look at. For the analysis of the changes operated onto these concepts will allow us to understand how their application worked –both on paper and in reality– in the period during which it was forced the replacement of the particular structures of the conquered peoples with this new set of rules and laws.

Now, we have reached an impasse, and forced our sight on deeper thoughts. The Engineering of Semantic Historical Information, or ENSHI… “Ceci n’est pas un projet numérique”, as we like to say, but a Knowledge Base. Its creation and development have been raised and funded by the CEDCS Foundation, and Alvaro Casillas joins me once again in this new venture, aimed at producing a publication around the core concepts, formulations and implementations developed inside the scope of the Semantic Information Theory throughout the last 75 years of its history, and which we consider to be of the utmost importance as an aid in the future development of History as a Social Science. Our final target? To engineer, if possible, the prototype of a model structure which could be used by scholars to systematise interlinked semantic historical information in order to reveal new paths into the true human nature of any given historic process.

Critical Humanities

My activity within the field of the Digital Humanities grew very quickly before I had time to reflect on it. Since 2012 I was part of the Red de Humanidades Digitales, and between 2015 and 2017, I was a member of its executive committee, and of the organising committee of its 2nd and 3rd congresses, giving conferences, workshops, courses and talks. I was able to meet so many people, hear so many different ideas, discover so many insights… I do not regret it. I couldn’t if I tried. Several introductory workshops to the field of Digital Humanities given –and many others attended– in mexican, spanish and central-american universities and research institutions, some ot them fully focused on digital projects design taught to pregrad students, or as an assessment to digital projects stuck in common old ways, or to develop new collaborative ways of research… All this work needed to be done,and no one else seemed to be interested on doing it. I took it. I loved it. I will keep at it.

Later, in 2018, I collaborated with eLaboraHD, an initiative carried out from the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México whose goal is to “contribute [from within the DH field] to the comprehensive training of those graduating from degrees in the Humanities”. The variety of platforms, tools, and applications useful for research tasks is so wide that it is almost impossible to know everything. That is why Adriana Álvarez began this project, in order to make a selection of tools and resources suitable for the academic activities of a humanist. Other professionals and grad students from the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México joined her and published in its website several reports, reviews, analysis and advices that can help other humanists. It took me too long to understand this was my very thing, to help others reach as high as possible, and no letting them go down. At least, not without a fine parachute. This project will last, and it will grow, provided more people take it as their own.

As a result of all these causes, various small projects have resulted in diverse satisfactions and disappointments, but above all one: the coordination, together with Paola Ricaurte Quijano, of a book of essays on the Digital Humanities as seen from the South, soon to be published. Today, I cannot assert I’m a digital humanist any more, but what is certain is that I am a critical humanist. Some of us, working in different projects and in different countries, every one of us with their own very unique agendas, we, Paola Ricaurte, Domenico Fiormonte, Arantxa Serantes, Alvaro Casillas and Mario Castañeda, we decided to create The Technodiversity Collective with the aim of “promoting initiatives on different scales to advance a critical political agenda about the role played by the governments of our countries in the internal colonialism materialised in the corporatisation of technological policies, the abandonment of sovereignty and the imposition of unique models of the world”. This far, we’ve published and translated into seven different languages, but this is not our only aim: we may not need to be heard, but others are, and we will undertake every effort to ensure they are heard.

What’s in your Digital Gardens? What’s your Finished Stairway?

Curriculum Vitæ

Last modified: July 17th, 2021, 13:00 hours.

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