Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village


This website is a draft prototype of a project that explores the histories, beliefs, livelihoods, and local identities in Xiakou (sha-ko) Village, located in the mountains of Ya'an County, in western Sichuan Province of the People's Republic of China. The goal of the project is to understand Xiakou Village as an evolving cultural landscape, defined as the interwoven field of physical environment, historical memory, and moral agency, in which particular places gather a people’s sense of themselves and serve as sources of belonging and identity. 

To reach that goal, the project will attempt to pioneer 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 plan 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 digital ethnography is organized through eight chapters: History, Landscape, Belief, Folklife, Authority, Work, Gazetteer, and Biography.  There are three main types of content within this chapter structure: essays, interactive maps, and artifacts.  Essays are the basic interpretive building blocks of the ethnography and are accessed through the chapters.  Visitors looking for a sense of one of the ethnography's multimedia essays might visit Folklife > Mountain Songs . The interactive maps under the Gazetteer chapter will offer spatial representations of sites in the cultural landscape, dynamically presented through GIS layers, sorted by kind and historical period.  For demonstration purposes, a flash animation of how this might eventually work in GIS can be accessed through Gazeteer > interactive Gazeteer map (note that because this is an animated simulation the rollovers are not linked to artifact pages).   Both the maps and essays will be illustrated and documented by “artifacts,” linked to multimedia content—photographs, video and audio recordings, image maps, diagrams, supplemental texts, primary source documents, and field notes.  The artifact frames this multimedia content within supplementary fields, including description, location, transcription, translation, notes, and other relevant metadata, especially links and keywords. A list of sample artifacts can be accessed through Resources > Media Catalogue.   Artifacts float free of chapters and essays—they may be referenced by one or more essays or they may have no special associations, but they serve as a flexible narrative tissue linking essays and artifacts together, and they highlight thematic overlaps and interconnections within the ethnography. 

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 will thus be 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 will not simply be 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, will create a guiding structure for the digital ethnography as a whole.

At this point the website is simply a rough draft intended to suggest rather than actually present the digital ethnography form we plan to develop.  Although 23 of the ethnography's 32 essays are in place, only a few of the artifacts have been installed in the essays, and while we have prepared the content of nearly 100 of the projected 250 artifacts, completion of this work must wait for development of the project's information structures and file protocols.  We are currently seeking funding to create the technical infrastructure that can fully realize the projects' potential. 

Since this is a draft, there are numerous formatting errors and browser compatibility problems.  We appreciate your forbearance and warmly welcome your suggestions.