My First Week at EVIADA

It’s the end of the first week at the [EVIA Digital Archive][evia] workshop. My fellow Fellows are out at nearby state park, but I have remained in Bloomington with Lily while Yung-Hsing is in North Carolina for a conference. I don’t mind, really. I really haven’t had much time with the bean all week, and it will be nice to spend some time together, especially in the beautiful weather that the Midwest seems too happy to give us and in the amazing environs of Bloomington. (It makes me wish the Folklore Institute was in need of an Americanist: I would surely apply.)

For all the parks and restaurants and museums that Yung and Lily have visited, I have spent most of my time here:

AWB in action

The Annotator’s Workbench

That’s obviously not a picture of the Indiana University library nor of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities’ conference room. That has been the location of my body, yes, but my mind has spent much of the time in the virtual space of *The Annotator’s Workbench*, the application created by EVIADA for the express purpose of marking up video files in such a way that they can be published to the web in a form that makes them discoverable and usable to instructors and researchers.

The application is amazing but still in development, which means it’s not as stable as one would like, especially on the Mac OS. (This is explained somewhat by the fact that originally the app was going to be Windows-only.) What happens is that you learn what will cause the app to freeze or crash and, well, you simply don’t do that. Different folks had different problems, so I can’t attest to others developing a workflow that, well, worked, but I did and I managed to make a fair amount of headway in this first week.

What I submitted to the EVIA Digital Archive was two hours of footage from the 2007 running of the Mermentau Mardi Gras and eight hours of footage from 2005 in which I led a team of graduate students to document an elderly Creole woman, Mrs. Enola Matthews, making soap. She was doing so at the request of her niece, and so some of what we captured was the soap-making process and some of it was stories told by the older woman to the younger people who surrounded her. (Mrs. Matthews was of the mind that all younger people needed to learn something and so her lessons were spread out among not only her niece but also me and the graduate students.)

What I got done this week is I managed to break all of the Mardi Gras material into scenes, which at least possess a basic description. In some cases I began to write detailed descriptions, but I really poured a fair amount of energy, and words, into glossary items, which you can link to from within any text. I did this because there are several terms that bear enough of a semantic load that they deserve the extensive treatment of a glossary entry — *Mardi Gras*, *run*, *stop* — and it also seemed to me that the best place to lay the ground for some sort of ideational framework were in the *meta* text fields like the glossary and the event description.

This business of text fields is interesting, as well as exhausting. While I would readily admit that I have not apparently been the most productive of academics — I really need to get those *JAF* and *JFR* essays shepherded through the pipeline, don’t I? — and I have also worked in a lot of alternative forms (for an academic) like public television news magazine pieces, CD liner notes, performance program notes *et cetera*, those forms are still largely linear, or, at the very least one has the sense of moving a reader along in a particular directions or at least a set of particular directions.

This is different. In the eventual EVIADA web interface, users will search and be delivered results by scenes. So, let’s say a user searches for “line dance.” That search would result in a Google-like list composed of scenes, two of which would be from my Mardi Gras material. (In 2007, the Mermentau Mardi Gras performed the freeze on Route 90 and the Cupid shuffle in front of the Morse fire house.) But there would also potentially be a host of other line dances from all around the world.

Each scene, then, must be self-sustaining. Explained in its own right. Users will see a tab for an event description, but the scene description itself carries the burden of getting people to explore such further steps into the material. The EVIADA staff have been incredibly good at emphasizing this.

Writing this way is not impossibly hard but nor is it effortlessly easy. Yes, there is a lot of repetition, but always with a difference. No matter how alike or contiguous one scene is to another, it is not the same scene, and so the context has shifted, forcing a shift in the text one writes. This should all be immediately obvious to someone steeped in performance studies, no? Well, it wasn’t necessarily obvious as I began, but it became so. However, grasping the obvious and then finding the best, and most productive, path through it are not necessarily the same thing.

In short, there’s a lot more here than simply writing up a basic description of a series of scenes that will eventually spatter a user’s computer screen. Working out what that “more” is something that I have been mulling over as I anticipate diving back into the remaining material and push toward getting as much work done before Wednesday as possible.

[evia]: http://eviada.org/

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