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EVIA Digital Archive

Last modified: Monday, November 27, 2006

$850,000 Mellon Foundation grant continues to support digital video project for ethnomusicologists

Nov. 27, 2006

Myano women sing and dance during a Presbyterian women's meeting at Chitsime CCAP Church in Limbe, Malawi, in 2003.

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A research team from Indiana University and the University of Michigan has received a $850,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to begin the implementation phase of a searchable online digital video archive that has been in development since 2001.

The grant is supplemented by support from both universities, bringing the three-year total to $1,416,104.

The Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis (EVIA) Digital Archive project is designed for the preservation and educational access of ethnographic video recordings, particularly those made by ethnomusicologists -- scholars who study music for the purposes of cultural analysis -- folklorists, anthropologists and dance scholars.

Since the initial grant proposal was approved by the Mellon Foundation in 2001, the EVIA Digital Archive project has demonstrated great developmental gains. In the past three years, nearly 300 hours of original field video recordings have been digitized and archived.

Using an innovative, user-friendly software interface developed specifically for the project by the EVIA Digital Archive technology team, rich descriptive annotations of these materials have been provided by each of the depositors who made the original recordings. In addition, the project's technology team has created a preliminary search and browse interface for the use of educators and researchers.

Members of the Bin Hussein Sea Band of Kuwait sing and play the ihalla -- clay water jars -- a common instrument of non-work sea songs

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The digital archive's current holdings include materials documenting a wide range of expressive traditions from Macedonia, Malawi, Tanzania, Brazil, China, Mexico, Kuwait, Northern Ireland, Canada, Liberia, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Côte D'Ivoire, the Netherlands and the United States.

For the past 25 years, scholars of ethnomusicology, folklore, anthropology and dance studies have increasingly utilized video as a means of capturing and preserving their field research. For example, driven by a belief that music is more than sound alone, ethnomusicologists use video to record a multitude of cultural practices -- including costumes, ritual practices and dance -- which are integral to fully understanding musical expression.

"A sense of urgency surrounds the preservation of these videos not only because of how quickly the source tape deteriorates, but as scholars begin using tapeless video recording technologies, the need for coherent archival and access strategies is even more critical," said Alan Burdette, executive investigator for the archive. "Because ethnomusicologists are often documenting cultural practices that do not otherwise get documented, the video recordings and the expert descriptions that accompany them are priceless."

The EVIA Digital Archive currently is the only project of its kind which collects, copies, annotates and preserves ethnographic video materials on the Web for use by educators, researchers and musicians on a global scale.

The implementation phase of this project will make the archive's materials accessible to a broader audience of users, establish markets for products and services, and add an additional 300 hours of video content to the archive. This phase also will allow the archive to implement a plan for becoming fully self-sustaining through an institutional membership program and subscription service.

IU and the University of Michigan are uniquely positioned to lead the project. Both institutions are charter members of Internet2 -- an advanced network that can deliver high-quality digital video to computers around the world. These universities also are home to important resources, such as IU's Archives of Traditional music, the largest university-based ethnographic sound and video archive in the United States. UM's Duderstadt Center facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration through technology and provides the special equipment needed for ingesting and digitizing the ethnographic videos deposited to the EVIA Digital Archive.

Technical development at IU is being led by the Digital Library Program and University Information Technology Services, which provide the mass-storage space for the EVIA Digital Archive project's digital data. The project also benefits from IU's prior experience in multimedia digital library development with the Variations music library system.

For the past five years co-principal investigators of the project, Ruth M. Stone, the Laura Boulton Professor at IU's Ethnomusicology Institute, and Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, have been developing the archive in conjunction with a team of professors, digital technologists, video experts, programmers, intellectual property rights specialists, librarians, catalogers and graduate assistants from both universities.

Although preservation of irreplaceable video recordings is the key issue driving the Digital Archive, one ultimate objective of the project is to provide access to recordings in the places where they were originally recorded, a task which has often proved difficult with physical videotapes.

"The eventual goal will be to repatriate these materials back to countries where they were collected," Stone said. "In those countries where there is war, like Liberia where I have done my work, if you have an electronic archive, it can't be destroyed like physical copies can."

The far-reaching scope of the EVIA project will provide a model for future projects. The unique and invaluable video materials placed in the digital archive eventually will be made available to people around the world and not just to those able to physically travel to archival institutions, as has been the case in the past. For educational institutions, researchers and all those concerned with the preservation and documentation of the world's cultural and musical traditions, the EVIA Digital Archive has global implications.

More information about the Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis Digital Archive is available at