A review of RSHHGG Lab, an index for Revue de la société Haïtienne d’histoire, de géographie et de géologie (RSHHGG), directed by Chelsea Stieber
Chelsea Stieber, Catholic University
Hadassah St. Hubert, NEH Office of Digital Humanities
The RSHHGG Lab is an interactive online index of over 90 years of the Revue de la Société haïtienne d’histoire, de géographie et de géologie (RSHHGG), the official publication of Haiti’s oldest intellectual society still active today.1 RSHHGG is the greatest repository of historical research produced on Haiti from Haiti, yet this resource and other Caribbean periodicals like it are rarely cited by scholars outside of the region.
The gap between the vital importance of Haiti’s premier social science journal and its relative lack of impact in North Atlantic scholarship led to the creation of the RSHHGG Lab, an interactive online index of nearly a century’s worth of knowledge produced in RSHHGG. Developed at the intersection of disciplinary fields and in cooperation with various institutional partners, including the Société haïtienne d’histoire, de géographie et de géologie; the Library of Congress’s LC Labs and John W. Kluge Center; Catholic University of America; and George Washington University, this cross-boundary collaborative digital project was designed to expand the impact of this crucial repository of Haitian social science research. RSHHGG Lab is an open-access, multilingual website (available in English, French, and Haitian Kreyòl) that features a searchable index of every article published in RSHHGG, a growing collection of article annotations from Haitian and non-Haitian scholars and researchers, and a space for experimentation.
Among the many collaborations behind the project, the LC Labs and visiting librarian Laura Wrubel provided project director Chelsea Stieber invaluable guidance and consultation on how to create a searchable index to make contents of the journal accessible, legible, and discoverable. Wrubel investigated platforms that met the requirements of the digital index, prioritizing those that would enable Stieber to control the data and its presentation and be appropriate for her and her collaborators’ technical skills and resources. The Zotero tool emerged as a key part of the technical approach, since it provides easy management of large numbers of citations and data portability. Wrubel wrote a Python script for a one-time transformation of a CSV (comma-separated values) export of the data held in a Google Sheet into the RIS (Research Information Systems) citation format, which is easily imported into Zotero. Wrubel’s Python script, while simple, was the keystone to being able to move the data set from CSV to a useable, searchable, accessible online platform on WordPress. The end result: a relatively data-lite site that queries our original (and easily updatable) Zotero bibliography through a searchable index by item, tag, and “browse by” options. Because of our emphasis on legibility and accessibility, we provided the main site information, including directions for searching and browsing, in English, French, and Haitian Kreyòl.
Because the project was designed to be more than just an index, Stieber sought ideas for how to make it into a dynamic space of collaboration and exchange that would bridge the North Atlantic/Haitian divide. As a result, the project included a call for collaborators to researchers of all levels throughout Haiti and the North Atlantic (primarily the United States, Canada, and France) in English, French, and Haitian Kreyòl. Because the articles themselves are not be accessible through the site, the idea was to create an online, collaborative space for scholars inside and outside Haiti to write short summaries of articles they had used from the journal for their own research. Many of the main project partners also contributed article annotations to the site, which are available in the site’s annotations section. The site also seeks to be useful to its other stakeholders—the researchers who use and contribute to it—as academic “capital” on a curriculum vitae or in a promotion dossier. To that end, we have maintained a scholarly editing process: Matthew Casey, a historian, serves as the English-language annotations editor and Vanessa Mongey, a historian, is the French-language annotations editor.
The site is aimed at scholars of Haiti, primarily (but not limited) to those outside Haiti. By indexing the contents of the journal, the site aims to increase the impact of this important publication by facilitating the collaborative work of scholars of Haiti in the U.S., Haiti, and beyond. The project title gestures to the role of collaboration, experimentation, and sharing in the Labs project at the Library of Congress and to the specific format of the Society’s publication, the revue: a space of exchange, confrontation, creation, and shared interests for scholars and researchers of Haiti. It is our sincere hope that this effort will foster collaboration and new partnerships by connecting scholars of Haiti from all levels and locales.
Hadassah St. Hubert
RSHHGG Lab is an online index and lab for the Revue de la société Haïtienne d’histoire, de géographie et de géologie (RSHHGG). Société haïtienne d’histoire, de géographie et de géologie, Haiti’s oldest intellectual society founded in 1923, still produces scholarly publications today. The journal was founded by Haiti’s preeminent intellectuals including Horace Pauléus Sannon, Jean Price-Mars, Sténio Vincent, Catts Pressoir, and Dantès Bellegarde in response to the U.S. Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934). The journal continues to “includes critical work from historians such as Ernst Trouillot, Hénock Trouillot, and Roger Gaillard, as well as foreign historians working on Haiti such as Gabriel Debien, Jacques Cauna, David Geggus and Carolyn Fick, among others.”2
RSHHGG is “the greatest repository of historical research produced on Haiti, from Haiti” but as project director Chelsea Stieber notes, “This research is rarely used by scholars outside of Haiti.”3 The main goal of RSHHGG Lab is to encourage scholarly engagement with this corpus of materials and the intellectuals who have contributed to the journal by indexing and annotating journal issues. RSHHGG Lab does not provide digital access to the journals, but the Library of Congress holds copies of nearly all of the issues, which can be requested through interlibrary loan.
Stieber asks users to engage with scholars in Haiti through this online index of intellectual work by scholars of Haitian descent. The project site allows users to browse the index by decade and subject tags, which include U.S. Occupation, Vodou, trade, diplomacy, imperialism, and decolonization, among many other subjects. The project falls short by not providing direct access to the publication itself, necessary to facilitate the very engagement it seeks. The project director has already partnered with the Library of Congress to experiment with project data but should consider partnering with Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) to have these issues digitally accessible for the long term and available as PDF downloads.
The project’s website is built in WordPress and was launched around 2017. When a user looks for a specific term or person, the search bar queries a Zotero bibliography. An impressive feature of the website is that users can search in French and Haitian Kreyòl. Users can also browse the index by decade and subject tags. However, the subject tag search is only available for the articles that have been annotated. With almost 1,000+ journal articles, RSHHGG Lab is an ambitious project that appears to heavily rely on volunteer work for the annotations. Currently, there are about 46 annotations available on the website.
Since the project is an immense task, Stieber should consider pursuing grants to fund the project. Scaling the project will be of utmost importance to continued success, due to the number of annotations needed. In addition, the project director might think of ways to increase the number of contributors, perhaps by working with the Library of Congress to facilitate digital access to the journal and hosting virtual events to work on annotations with a group of scholars. These suggestions will help Stieber more fully realize the promise of RSHHGG Lab.