Project history

This project is a digital ethnography, or the interactive presentation of focused, long-term fieldwork research results in the form of an online monograph, media archive, and information structures such as relational databases, and GIS mapping. Our aim is to use the project's digital form to reinforce its ethnographic content, using new technologies to render more transparent the relationship between source and interpretation, to open up non-linear narrative paths through the ethnography, and therefore to more vividly reveal the interconnections among different dimensions of village life that are the core content of the project.

The overall approach we want to adopt in the digital ethnography is to maximize freedom of intellectual movement through a thick set of primary sources and interpretive essays. The reader is thus liberated from a fixed “authorial” linear narrative, and enabled to move through a tissue of alternative narratives that are “opened” both by disclosing the source material on which our interpretations are based (i.e., artifacts) and by the interactive functions of the maps and database (i.e. search functions). At the same time, the reader is not simply free floating in an inchoate mass of information. All the artifacts comprise media that are embedded within a contextual framework of data, and the selected keyword approach to searching, along with the set number of map layer variables integrated with the essays and artifacts, creates a guiding structure for the digital ethnography as a whole.

We began working on the digital version of the ethnography in 2001 at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, refining prototypes of the site structure and digital mapping component, and using the website in courses. A sabbatical year in Ya'an in 2004 allowed us to expand the project's geographical scope and to develop our research materials into multimedia "artifacts." A 2007 NEH Summer Stipend enabled John to work on GIS mapping, and in 2008, an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship funded a yearlong collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia to create the website's core information structures, relational database, and overall design.

Project Documentation

One of our main goals is to provide documentation on the whole development process of this project, from grant application to database design to GIS mapping to final online implementation. Below we make available the schema and editorial policy documents that govern the database, as well as the original grant applications to the ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship and to the NEH Summer Stipend program.

Credits and acknowledgments

Special thanks go to:

American Council of Learned Societies
Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia
University of North Carolina Charlotte
NEH Summer Stipend

Worthy Martin, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia
Robbie Bengler,  Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia
Cindy Girard, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia
David Germano, University of Virginia
Cecelia Hamilton,  University of North Carolina, Charlotte