Meet our SUCHO Volunteers: Kim Martin
Published on May 8, 2022 by Anna Kijas
Kim Martin, Assistant Professor of History and Culture and Technology Studies at the University of Guelph, came to SUCHO through Twitter – “like all good things in the digital humanities,” she laughs. “I saw what they were doing in the first week of the project and got involved just by jumping on the Slack channel. I started by just finding links for different places, different websites. I have an interest in oral history, so I was looking for oral histories from different towns and cities. I knew very little about Ukraine when I dove into the project, so it’s very exciting to learn more about the country – although obviously not under the greatest of circumstances.”
After a week of being involved in the project, Martin focused her efforts on coordinating the metadata team, welcoming new members to the metadata Slack channel, developing policy around the types of metadata that they are collecting, and administering meetings. This team is responsible for capturing data about objects from the web pages, which are themselves captured using web archiving software. There are currently around 15,000 items in the Internet Archive – including PDFs, images of artwork, letters, and even some government documents – and the metadata team is responsible for recording the information about these objects. “Because the goal of SUCHO is to help folks in Ukraine be able to build their websites back up and put this information back together, we need metadata that helps describe where these pages were, or where these items were taken from,” Martin describes. “We’re trying our best to maintain what [Ukrainian cultural institutions] have already built. Our description is not just of the object itself, which is a short description, but where it came from on the webpage, who might have scraped it from the website, any information that adds context to describe the object in question.”
When asked about the importance of conserving cultural heritage in this way, Martin notes the urgency of the war in Ukraine and the importance of keeping and maintaining digital records. “We put a lot of stuff on the web, assuming that once it’s on the internet, it stays there, but that’s not true - [information] doesn’t just live on the web; it doesn’t just stay there. I think this is an important outcome of SUCHO - it’s showing how impermanent some of these things are and we don’t give enough thought up front to sustaining and maintaining these sites.”
Figure 1. One of the first sites that Martin collected was the Polyphony Project, a collection of Ukrainian folk songs sung by individuals across Ukraine. Recently, she’s enjoyed listening to the site while working, a reminder of the importance of collecting heritage in this way.
For Martin, the possible applications of digital humanities, as demonstrated in this project, are endless. “[SUCHO] is a great thing to be involved in, and I hope that it invokes a wider conversation about how to protect data across international borders. I think that we need to be able to draw attention to the ways that we did this. It could be a case study for how we can protect digital cultural heritage elsewhere - and demonstrates that we should care not only about preserving our own cultural heritage, but also that beyond our borders.” There certainly are transnational implications of a project of this scale: with close to 1400 volunteers from across the globe, the concern for Ukraine’s cultural heritage is widespread. This global community has been one of the best parts of the project for Martin - without seeing colleagues in person at conferences throughout the past two years during the pandemic, the metadata team has offered a chance for Martin to reconnect with and become better acquainted with her peers. Through Slack and Zoom, Martin and other SUCHO volunteers have learned from and grown with one another, all the while conserving Ukrainian metadata - with a bit of help from translation services, of course. “We’re doing metadata for a country where I don’t read or speak the language - that is very hard. Google Translate has definitely become my friend!”
Interview and profile by Megan Zembower (cross-posted on https://www.sucho.org/profile/2022/05/07/profile-kim-martin)