The Illinois Project was created during the summer of 1999 by tribal members who were interested in gaining access to the rich vocabulary held in Jesuit-era documents. The project was to begin systematically transcribing and translating the late-seventeenth to early-eighteenth century Jesuit manuscripts, for the purpose of adding new vocabulary to our ongoing Miami-Illinois language reclamation efforts. At the time, we were aware of only two manuscripts: the dictionaries of Le Boullenger and Largillier (formerly called Gravier); a third Jesuit manuscript, called Pinet, was discovered later in 1999 by Michael McCafferty. The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma was able to receive a digital copy of the new Pinet manuscript in 2003 after working through an agreement with the Archives De La Compagnie De Jesus in Quebec, Canada.
The Illinois Project was initially overseen through the joint effort of members of the language committees of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the Miami Nation of Indians of the State of Indiana, Inc., under the guidance of a ten-year compact agreement signed in 1997. The agreement reached its end in 2007, and from that point on the Myaamia Project (now the Myaamia Center) assumed the responsibility of moving the Illinois Project forward.
David Motz served as the initial Project Coordinator and was instrumental in setting up the transcription process and maintaining data as it was processed from the original manuscripts. Over the years, several individuals served as transcribers. One of the primary transcribers was Kathy Regan, who volunteered many hours to the Illinois Project up through the year 2000. In 2001, project staff attempted to train tribal students attending Miami University to help with transcription, and over time, various other individuals volunteered their time. The skills needed to read the handwritten text and understand both French and Miami-Illinois proved challenging for transcribers.
The first attempt to systematically translate the French was undertaken by Dr. Leslie Roberts, associate professor of French at the University of Southern Indiana, who spent the summers of 2001-2 translating line-by-line from the original manuscript. All of these efforts were incredibly important in not only producing some of the first usable data from the manuscripts, but also in clarifying the challenges in working with eighteenth-century materials and the amount of labor required to complete various tasks and manage large amounts of data.
Work on the Illinois Project slowed from 2005 until 2012, when the Myaamia Center received an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for the Inokaatawaakani Project - Illinois Project (PD-50017-12). This support funding (the first for this work since its inception) gave new life to the Illinois Project. The award, along with new technological advances, allowed the Illinois Project to take a significant leap forward developmentally.
Michael McCafferty, who is a Master Teacher in the Department of Second Language Studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, now serves as the French translator. Carole Katz is the transcriber on the project, while Dr. David Costa serves as the primary Miami language consultant and, with Daryl Baldwin, as co-PI on the NEH grant. This new phase of the Illinois Project, supported by the NEH, called for a concerted three-year effort by the above-mentioned team to digitally prepare the Le Boullenger manuscript for complete transcription, to translate the French, and begin to translate the Miami-Illinois portion of the manuscript. This work resides in a searchable online database (ilaatawaakani.org).
The technology portion of this project is as extensive as the transcription and translation work. At least two years have gone into the development of the database and website. The technology team for the NEH-funded portion of this project is coordinated by Andrew J. Strack, who directs the Myaamia s Office of Technology and Publications. The team includes supervisory assistance from Dr. Douglas Troy, Miami University Professor Emeritus and Director of College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) Graduate Programs; Xianli Sun, Graduate Student, Miami University Engineering and Computing; and Zach Haitz, Graduate Student, Miami University Engineering and Computing.
As the NEH-funded portion of this project progressed, we not only began to realize the potential for this uniquely designed research tool, but have now come to believe that all of the extant language materials on Miami-Illinois could reside in the database in the near future. This shift in thinking now leads us to believe that we can accomplish much more than originally intended, when we were working only with the Le Boullenger document. This new development warranted a name change for the online database from 'Illinois Dictionary' to simply 'The Dictionary' as a way to be inclusive of the total corpus of language materials. In essence, this project will likely become the digital archive for all known Miami-Illinois language materials.
The ilaatawaakani database will be an important research tool for working with large amounts of documentation, so that specific kinds of information can be extracted for linguistic analysis as well as educational material development for tribal programs. It is our intention that the primary users of this database will be researchers and educators from various disciplines.
An article explaining the origins of MIDA within the context of the Myaamia language revitalization effort can be found at the following source: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/24713
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