MIDA Architecture and Implementation

The Miami-Illinois Digital Archive (MIDA) is implemented using a version of the industry-standard web service solution commonly referred to by the acronym LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP). The complete MIDA system is hosted on a commercial web hosting service that runs the Linux operating system and a web server (typically Apache). The underlying database is a relational database management system using MySQL. The web pages, search logic, and database loading code are programmed using a combination of the HTML, PHP and JavaScript programming languages.

Current Use and Future Development

The first version of MIDA is in use by linguists, Tribal educators, historians, and ecologists. While MIDA has been populated with the data from only one Jesuit-era manuscript (LeBoullenger), at the time of this publication, two more manuscripts from the same era, namely Pinet and Largillier, are near completion with initial stages of transcription and their French translation finished.

The Largillier manuscript will likely be the next dataset to come online within the next year. Following the entry of these early sources, our current goal is to process and upload all the known Miami-Illinois source materials and to make them accessible and searchable within future versions of MIDA.

As previously stated, MIDA is not designed to teach myaamiaataweenki, but serves as a critical link between the archival sources and the various research specialists and educators who are looking for data to serve their individual interests and program needs. One of the most powerful features of this new software is its ability to retrieve a digital copy of the original page when further examination and interpretation are needed. This immediate access to copies of the original, coupled with contextual information and linguistic analysis, is what makes MIDA unique in its function. For communities having to reclaim their language from documentation, where documentation becomes the main source for language, a heavy research component is necessary and MIDA allows for that research to progress faster and more efficiently.

Easy access to linguistic, cultural, historical, and ecological information is invaluable in cultural revitalization work. The ability to search within and between documents at the same time for specific content is a luxury we have not had up to this time. Tribal educators who might be developing curriculum for something as simple as the reintroduction of traditional games can now search “game” in MIDA and obtain a wealth of information that can then be forwarded to linguists and cultural experts for help with translation and interpretation before they utilize the information in community culture and language vitalization programs. Ecologists are now able to search for a wide range of food plants in MIDA and can gain insight into traditional dietary information that has direct use and value for our ongoing “cooking with traditional foods” project.

Conclusion

The Ilaatawaakani Project was essential in creating the Miami-Illinois Digital Archive (MIDA). The years of struggle, the numbers of individuals who contributed to ideas, and rapidly developing technologies all factored into our evolving understanding of what was possible. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to revitalizing languages, there is no one tool that will serve every community’s language archive needs. The Ilaatawaakani Project (formerly the Illinois Project) began in 1999, and 17 years later we have reached a milestone in the development of a long-term archival tool that specifically meets our linguistic research and cultural vitalization needs. Development was delayed by the need for more capacity building, secured funding, and other human resources. Bringing these multiple resources together in a way that supports further development takes time and much effort. The ground-breaking work of language reconstruction, the development of the Myaamia Center, and the relationship nurtured through Miami University’s College of Engineering and Computing were also vital relationship building activities that laid the foundation for a collaborative project like this to be successful.

Despite the challenges, the Ilaatawaakani Project’s process has allowed us to explore the extent to which we could develop a digital archive that specifically met the needs of community-based language research and development. Hopefully, our work in the reconstruction and reclamation of Myaamia language and culture will continue to afford us opportunities to establish new research tools and methodologies for archival work. The development of MIDA has not only opened up new possibilities for archiving and utilizing large amounts of linguistic sources, but has also impacted our ability to access critical cultural and ecological information for tribal educational programs. Many of us who work with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma are honored to observe the true beneficiaries of all this work—the many Myaamia children who for the first time in over a 100 years are afforded the opportunity to hear and speak myaamiaataweenki and to learn many new and exciting aspects of their complex history, language, and culture.

The Miami-Illinois Digital Archive can be found at www.ilaatawaakani.org.

 
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