This research examines the social, technical, and cultural processes of integrating Indigenous scientific knowledge with digital media platforms. The Otomi people of the central Mexican plateau have developed extensive astronomical knowledge systems for calendrical timekeeping over thousands of years based on observations of lunar, solar, and Venusian cycles. Efforts are underway to collaborate with the Otomi people to digitize and preserve their indigenous astronomical knowledge. This will enable Otomi knowledge-holders to share their cosmological knowledge locally, regionally, and globally. However, digital technologies like virtual reality environments and three-dimensional imaging can also warp conceptions of space and time, creating distortions much like a two-dimensional map distorts landmasses, challenging translational processes. This project documents the intersection of knowledge systems as community knowledge held through narratives, images, and intergenerational exchange is translated into digital systems marked by computational standardization and 3-d cameras. Researchers will analyze participatory design processes as Indigenous ethno-scientists, digital media-makers, and traditional knowledge-holders collaborate to create a prototype virtual reality representation. The project will encourage Hispanic and Native American students’ interest in STEM careers and STS research, which is vital to the American workforce, while also assessing the ways that virtual reality technologies may contribute to Indigenous knowledge reclamations and cultural sustainability.

Drawing upon data collected through round table discussions and participatory design sessions, and informed by Actor-Network Theory, this research addresses four main questions: (1) Who are the primary collaborators involved in translating Indigenous astronomical knowledge and what materials will they use to create a novel form of Indigenous technoscience? (2) Can immersive 3-D audio-visual technology accurately convey the complex tenets of Indigenous epistemology? (3) What kinds of knowledge, interface design, or data standardization will be needed to effectively accomplish a best-case model for other Indigenous communities around the world? (4) What kind of protocols and methodologies can enable a best-case practice for ensuring that Indigenous communities and their knowledge are respected and not exploited? Overall, this research investigates the processes needed to standardize Indigenous calendar visualizations for public and community presentation, with the guidance of Indigenous knowledge keepers and according to the protocols of participating with Indigenous communities.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Wenda K. Bauchspies
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University of Missouri-Columbia
United States
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