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Indigitizing Learning

This has been very interesting to think about...digital storage of information predates 'computers'...by a long time.

Wampum belt, Iroquois and Algonkian, commemorating peace treaty in 17th century - Native American collection - Peabody Museum, Harvard University - DSC05418

I love it when ideas converge. Last night in EDCP512A at UBC, we talked about being in the swamp, where the messy problems are, as being the place where interesting ideas converge. I've long thought that living and being on the edges of circles of influence is where the good and innovative ideas are because that is where people from different paradigms can bump into each other.

I experienced this a bit at Congress this past spring when I attended a session because there was a presenter who was talking about his work in Indigenous communities. While this was in alignment with my interests, there was also a presenter in the session talking about their research in queer studies. While this presentation wasn't in direct alignment with my interests, I soon discovered that it was in direct alignment with my interests, and soon decided that I would be using a queer paradigm in my research. I think I've talked myself out of that for now, but the conversation we had in that session was transformative for me.

My research interests right now are in aligning digital and Indigenous learning, or, to borrow a portmanteau I learned on the podcast Recoding Relations and which was coined, as far as I know, by a group of educators and librarians at UBC and UNBC...indigetizing learning.


My first recognition of something cool in the history of digitally encoded information came as I listened to the podcast 13 Minutes to the Moon from the BBC. In that very well-produced series, they talk about the memory modules of the computer guidance system on Apollo 11 being 'rope memory' that is created by physically weaving very thin wires through a complex array of magnetic cores. The video below explains more.


That led to a bit of a curiosity binge on my part to learn more about the history of digital memory. So after a few DuckDuckGo searches that won't end up in an advertising database, I began to learn a bit (intended) about how far back encoded memory can be traced.

One of the earlier technologies used to create transportable encoded data was in the Incan Empire, which used quipu to record and encode all sorts of data to keep track of a wide variety of transactions and other activites. It's notable that quipu was created by physically tying knots and weaving together strings in specific configurations. While it is true that every writing system is encoded memory, what makes quipu particularly interesting is the parallel to modern binary languages used in computer systems.


Then, circling back to the Indigetization Project I mentioned earlier, I learned that many consider wampum belts to be early (pre-contact) examples of binary code in Indigenous cultures.

NativeTech: Wampum; History and Background

Wampum belts are created by weaving together beads created from either white or purple shells to create an encoded record of specific events such as peace treaties between Nations.

So, where am I going with this? I'm not sure yet, other than recognizing the fact that binary systems to encode and store information have existed for far longer than contemporary white settlers imagine.