My MSUDAI project requires me to tackle a thorny problem I have faced for some time – how to get archaeology data out of the database used to manage collections at MNHS into a form that is easy for researchers to use. Creating an XML version of my project data set seemed like the answer to my problem until I realized the formatting issues that have dogged me on previous attempts were still there.
The bane of my existence has been a data structure called nested tables; tables embedded in other tables. A deep dive into Open Refine’s advanced features made it clear to me that this was not the tool I needed to “un-nest” these fields. That’s when I realized that I would have to use XSLT to solve my problem. I have never learned XML programming, so where to turn for help? Since I knew that other institutions that use the same collections management system have likely faced this problem, I decided to review the user’s group forum. Bingo! A kind user in Australia offered to write the XSL for me when I asked for examples of reports he mentioned in the forum. The code hasn’t run properly yet, but I am very close now to the results I want.
The current convergence of research at Historic Fort Snelling is really inspiring. I met with two MNHS staff members from the Exhibits department and Program Specialist Matt Cassady to discuss how archaeology in general, and my project in particular, could enhance interpretation of the fort as the history there is reexamined ahead of planned redevelopment of the site (http://www.mnhs.org/hfs2020). Archaeology has not been on the institutional radar before, so I am starting to reach part of the internal audience I hoped to engage with my MSUDAI project.
Matt and I met to review themes suggested by the artifacts. Music in the military is one topic we have started to explore because the basement of the Short Barracks was littered with keys from brass instruments. These were not found elsewhere on the site. Matt noted that this is consistent with documentation indicating band members were quartered in the Short Barracks.
I also met with a group of non-MNHS researchers who will be conducting projects at the fort over the next year. My University of Minnesota partner, Professor Kathryn Hayes, plans to hold a field school at the fort this spring. One of her graduate students is scanning maps associated with the reconstruction excavations that I may be able use in the interpretive part of my project. Another student will start analyzing the Short Barracks data when it is ready. A Statewide Archaeology Survey grant will also fund a contractor to investigate aspects of the Fort Snelling Historic District outside the historic fort (http://www.comm.media.state.mn.us/bookstore/stateregister/40_10.pdf p.283). This work should help the Historic Preservation archaeologist update the National Register nomination. All people who could use the data I plan to publish.