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Thursday, June 8 • 4:30pm - 4:50pm
Treating Legacy Colonial Data as Data Error: Decolonizing data through participatory data collection and storytelling at Mohenjo-Daro

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Mohenjo-Daro (27° 15’ N, 68° 05’ E), is located in contemporary Pakistan in Sindh Province and is considered one of the main urban centers on the Harappan landscape, extending well over 100 hectares, with some arguing for the extension of the site to up to 250 hectares (Jansen 1994: 270; Possehl 2002: 185; Tosi, Bondioli, and Vidale 1984: 15). This third millennium BCE ancient city was first documented and excavated in 1922. For a hundred years this site has lived within Sindhi cultural memory through song, poetry, literature, and internationally through archaeological work. First reported by Sir John Marshall in the 'Illustrated London News' in 1924, MohenjoDaro became part of the international public, specifically part of the British public. Due to this practice a distinction was created between what was considered locally relevant and what was of international significance. Utilizing excavation reports from the first two decades of work at the site as colonial legacy data, this paper addresses the multiple ways by which the documentation of colonial work at this archaeological site violates ethical sensibilities around information, data management, and accessibility. As a way to decolonize this practice, we will present ways by which participatory data visualization can undo some of that violence by making the archaeological data accessible to local populations, thus providing the possibility for it to sit alongside the song, poetry, and literature related to the site.

This is part of a larger project by the Laboratory for Integrated Archaeological Visualization and Heritage (liavh.org) around making Mohenjo-Daro data accessible to broader publics through data visualization. The project of documentation and visualization begins with creating data sets. extracted tables and converted narrative text from excavation reports to create searchable data. The source data was primarily the original, print-format excavation reports in the books 'Further Excavations at Mohenjo-daro: Volumes I and II' by Ernest J. H. Mackay, from the excavations in 1927-1931. These books present the data through long-form narrative, list structures, images, and hand-drawn neighborhood plans, along with Mackay’s interpretation of what might have been ancient life on site. These interpretations are embedded in the data sets as we digitize them. Rather than digitizing data in a critical vacuum, the authors of this paper present alternative methodologies in the effort to decolonize the legacy data set.

Much work done on decolonizing data is situated within settler colonial contexts (for example, Quinless 2021). Within postcolonial spaces, like Pakistan, there is also a dire need to reexamine how data is made and maintained. This project considers how we might make data differently. This paper will present the results of participatory work conducted in December at MohenjoDaro. Rather than us informing communities on how data is made, we will be working with and alongside folks as research collaborators to figure out how we might consider data making differently. We anticipate this will allow us to integrate how local communities understand the data already through storytelling, song, poetry, and folklore.


Itzamna Huerta

Pratt Institute, United States of America
avatar for Uzma Rizvi

Uzma Rizvi

Associate Professor, Pratt Insitute
Uzma Z. Rizvi is an Associate Professor at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, and a Visiting Faculty at Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, Pakistan. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (2007), followed by a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University (2008... Read More →

Mahnoor Fatima

Pratt Institute, United States of America

Thursday June 8, 2023 4:30pm - 4:50pm EDT
ARC E-13