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 purpose of 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 revitalization 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 obtained a digital copy of the new Pinet manuscript in 2003 after working through an agreement with the Archives de la Compagnie de Jésus in Québec, Canada.
In 2012, the Myaamia Center at Miami University 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, 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 J. 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 (RVIDA.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 original technology team for the NEH-funded portion of this project consisted of Andrew J. Strack, former director the Myaamia Center’s Office of Technology and Publications, well as Xianli Sun, Graduate Student, Miami University Engineering and Computing; and Zach Haitz, Graduate Student, Miami University Engineering and Computing. The current technology team consists of Jonathan Fox, current Director of the Communication and Publications office of the Myaamia Center, programmers Alexander Stahl and Chris Anderson, and Dr. Douglas Troy, Miami University Professor Emeritus and Director of College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) Graduate Programs.
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 foreseeable 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 has evolved into a digital archive for all known Miami-Illinois language materials and is thus referred to as the Miami-Illinois Digital Archive (MIDA).
The ILDA 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.
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