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Digital Interfaces Workshops on Documenting West African Heritage Held at MIT


Muhammad Madandola, Emilie Songolo, Adefola Toye, Abdullah Ogunsetan, Baba Oladeji, Michael Toler in the Hayden Nexus

The A3-Archnet Digital Interfaces Workshop week, hosted by the Aga Khan Documentation Center @ MIT, was held on 27 February – 3 March 2023 in the MIT Libraries. The Nigerian delegation was led by A3 founder Baba Oladeji and consisted of three winners of the A3-Archnet Writing Competition, Adefola Toye, Muhammed Madandola, Abdullah Ogunsetan. The Nigerian delegation received an orientation tour from Matt Saba, Interim Program Head and Michael Toler, Archnet Content Manager in the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT (AKDC@MIT), on Sunday, 26th February 2023. A fourth prize winner, Enwonwu Chiagozie Mitchelle, was unable to participate in the workshops and will be recognized at a future event.

The official kick-off for the workshops was in the morning on Monday the 27th when participants were welcome by Emilie Songolo, Head of Distinctive Collections, Matt Saba, and Michael Toler, who then led a discussion on policies and procedures for building collections. This was followed by 3 workshops on processing led by Rachel Van Unen, Archival Processing Manager; user access with Amanda Hawk, Public Services Manager; and collections digitization by Jennifer Morris, Digital Imaging Manager.

The second day was devoted to a workshop on writing about architecture, during which Saba and Toler were joined by Gwendolyn Collaco and Rami Alafandi, Aga Khan Curators to discuss writing samples submitted by the participants.

Wednesday’s sessions were devoted to Digital Humanities and a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. In the DH session, participants discussed DH tools with Ece Turnator, Humanities and Digital Scholarship Librarian; Mark Szarko, Librarian for Comparative Media Studies, Literature, Philosophy, and Theater Arts; Carl Jones, Digital Library Systems Manager; and Jamie Folsom, of Performant Software Solutions, the developer of Archnet. In the Wikipedia session, Phoebe Ayers, Librarian for Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, IDSS, and Mathematics, and Kai Alexis Smith, Architecture and Planning Librarian, worked with participants to create or edit 11 Wikipedia articles.

On Thursday, Christine Malinowski, Research Data Librarian, and Amy Nurnberger, Program Head, Data Management Services led a discussion on Research Data Management, followed by a session on GIS and mapping with Jennie Murack, Geospatial Data Librarian & Statistics Specialist and Daniel Sheehan, Program Head, GIS and Statistical Software Services for the MIT Libraries.

The workshops culminated in a hybrid public presentation on 3 March 2023 where Jamie Folsom, Baba Oladeji and Michael Toler took turns to share the journey so far, and presented the latest iteration of Archnet and A3 web interfaces.

Both the Nigerian participants and the participating staff from the MIT Libraries reported finding the exchange rewarding. In an anonymous survey, one participant wrote, “It was an amazing opportunity to learn, collaborate and interact with all the participants and bodies that anchored sessions. The sessions, meals, and logistics were well planned.”

The goal of the project is to document the built heritage of Nigeria and West Africa, while also raising public awareness and appreciation of this heritage.

Supported by a 2019 grant from the MISTI General Seed Fund, the workshops were delayed 3 years by the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, A3 and AKDC@MIT organized a series of online events, and developed documentation for more than 40 structures, with logistical support provided by the platform of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab. Work done during that period is available on Archnet and A3 online presences.

Later this year, the partnership will organize a “West<> Africa Virtual Biennale” in Lagos. Stay tuned for that announcement.

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