by Julie Roy
Ethnolinguist Christine Jourdan and members of her FCAR research team,
Pierre Maranda and Sylvie Poirier, of Université Laval, together
with a team of experts from the Musée de la Civilisation du Québec,
have brought multimedia and anthropology together for a new Web site on
The work, the product of a collaborative effort of academics, curators
and computer programmers, has earned the team several awards.
ECHO (Encyclopédie Culturelle Hypermédia de lOcéanie/Cultural
Hypermedia Encyclopedia of Oceania) was conceived by Maranda and Jourdan
around 1993. With two consecutive FCAR grants, a CRSH bursary and funding
from the Canadian and French governments, among others, the project was
set to begin. It linked anthropologists who, like Jourdan, were specialists
in Oceania, the islands of the Pacific.
Defining central cultural
ECHOs goal was to create a new, encyclopedic approach by using the
terms and concepts of Oceanias people. The researchers made use
of concepts borrowed from neuroscience and semiotics to develop their
own architecture based on the concept of attractors and attraction
basins, clusters of meaning that gravitate around an attractor.
Anthropologists from around the world selected terms that were defined
as central to the cultures of Oceania. About 400 of them became attractors.
Out of them, the team developed attraction basins with words relating
to the main attractors. Graphics-wise, this looks a little bit like an
Wantok is one of those attractors. It is the pidgin word for one-talk,
meaning the act of coming together and sharing one language, mainly in
plantation and urban contexts. Wantok is the centre of an attraction basin
in which related terms are linked with knots and threads. Such knots include
housing, family, friends, etc. Each
term in the attraction basin opens up to a new page of information, accompanied
by audio clips, photos and sometimes, short movies.
While looking for concrete applications of this research, Jourdan and
her colleagues entered into a partnership with the Musée de la
Civilisation, in Quebec City, which had the infrastructure necessary to
implement ECHO in the form of a virtual exhibition showcasing their collection
of objects from the region. Thats how Peuple des eaux, gens des
îles (Habitants of waters, people of the islands) came to be.
The project for the museum an ECHO prototype shows only
three attractors: wantok, house and ancestors.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. ECHO aims at describing 400
attractors, Jourdan said. The challenge here is to find an interface
that can accommodate 400 attractors in the same fashion as the existing
Web site does with only three. We have started working with computer
science specialists here at Concordia [Peter Grogono and Gregory Butler]
and have been working on a grant application to take the project further
and find the best way to do just that.
ECHO has also won the prestigious 2001 gold MIM for the education category.
This award is given through the Marché International du Multimedia
(thus MIM) to outstanding achievements using multimedia.
Jourdan, an associate professor in Concordias Department of Sociology
and Anthropology, is fully aware of the new possibilities multimedia can
bring to her field.
Multimedia has become a new way to represent anthropology. It enables
us to popularize information and to make it more accessible. I even use
it in the classes I teach, and the students like it very much.
The Musée de la Civilisation is hosting the ECHO prototype with
the three attractors through the www.oceanie.org
Web site until 2003. There is also a possibility that this enclyclopedia
might be published as a CD-ROM, but nothing has been confirmed yet.