Working with Archival Materials

Megan Lukaniec (University of California Santa Barbara, Huron-Wendat Nation) and Susan Gehr (Humboldt State University, Karuk Tribe)

Note to Interested Participants

Please read the following description and send the presenters an email discussing what you’d most like to learn from the class.

Workshop Description

As more languages become dormant each year, there is a growing need to develop and disseminate research methods for working with archival documents. Breath of Life is unique in that it offers hands-on training in accessing and using archival data. Although Breath of Life is invaluable since it provides the crucial first steps toward interpreting and working with archival materials, there remains much more work to be done. Furthermore, as the applicant pool for this institute is becoming more competitive with each passing year, there is a need for developing alternative venues for providing these skills. Therefore, this workshop aims to complement the vast amount of work accomplished during Breath of Life institutes.

This workshop is aimed primarily toward beginning and intermediate participants who either are currently working with or intend to work with archival materials. The workshop will include some theory, pertaining to linguistic reconstruction, but will focus primarily on providing and developing skills to accomplish research and revitalization goals through the use of archival documents. Therefore, there will be hands-on practice in class as well as regular assignments for participants. These assignments will allow students to begin working with these materials during the workshop itself, to discuss these methods with fellow participants, and to fix any potential pitfalls or obstacles during the initial stages of this process.

Topics (and possible assignments) to be covered in workshop:

  • Identifying and locating archival material 
    •   Assignment: Search OLAC and other language archives to locate materials pertaining to your language.  
  • Preparing for a visit to the archives
    •  Creating a workflow for consulting archival materials on site
  • Exploring database options 
    • Reviewing (briefly) the various options for database software, ranging from basic word processing software, spreadsheet software such as Excel, database software such as Toolbox, Flex, Filemaker Pro, and possible web-based alternatives
    • Assignment: Make a list of the database fields which would be necessary given your specific language materials and goals
  • Developing a keyboard for transcription purposes
    • Assignment: Go through your archival documents to make a list of all characters and diacritics needed for transcription purposes.
    • Assignment: Work with either Ukelele (Mac) or Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (Windows) to create a keyboard for your specific transcription needs.
  • Beginning the linguistic reconstruction process
    • Assignment: Identify documentation and descriptions of related languages (through searching OLAC as well as catalogues of published materials).
    • Assignment: Explore any metadata or historical information pertaining to how and by whom the archival materials were compiled.
    • Explanation of basis behind the comparative method and internal reconstruction
  • Beginning the linguistic reconstitution process
    • Assignment: Given the history of the materials themselves, identify possible gaps in the data (semantic, grammatical, etc.)
    • Establishing a possible procedure in the community for reconstituting the language (including deciding upon neologisms).
    • Reconstituting gaps in the documentation and creating new words through cognates, calques, or other means
  • Linking archival materials to needs and priorities of revitalization efforts
    • Prioritizing the specific goals of revitalization when consulting and analyzing these documents
    • Making an index (if needed) of topics covered in archival material in order to facilitate consultation of documents
    • Translating archival material into language pedagogy
    • Assignment: Create a short language lesson using data (reconstructed, if applicable) from these documents