RCH logo     Collaboratory for Research in
     Computing for Humanities

The Bitter Aloe Project: Machine Learning Natural Language Processing and Structured Data Extraction in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Archive

Project Directors

Dr. Stephen Davis
Associate Professor
Department of History
University of Kentucky

Dr. William Mattingly
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Smithsonian Institution/US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Project Home:  https://bitteraloeproject.createuky.net

Project Description

The Bitter Aloe Project* developed customized natural language processing (NLP) models that use machine learning (ML) to perform named entity recognition (NER) of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) archives. At present, we are completing an interactive web dashboard that presents user-defined datasets in a variety of visualizations, allowing researchers to explore the finer dimensions of violence, and provide enhanced understanding of relationships that exist within categorical clusters, as refined by geography, time, among other variables.

This project enhances and extends the legibility of this important patrimony for victims, their descendents, and civil society, and reintroduces a critically important South African human rights archive to scholarly specialists and generalists focused on the origins, function, and meaning of gross human rights in this domain and others around the world.

In the upcoming year the project team will disseminate this refined methodology among relevant communities of scholars via workshops and online tutorials, and train additional NER models for use in other human rights corpora. Audiences will thus be able to take advantage of new forms of data visualization and statistical analysis, enabling better comprehension of vast social relations that undergird mass violence at scale and across time.

*Bitter aloe or Aloe ferox, is one of many medicinal aloes native to southern Africa. This aloe has been a part of traditional African pharmacopeias for centuries. Indigenous herbalists known as izinyanga alternately prescribe it as a powerful purgative, for soothing burns or detoxifying wounds. Mahomoodally, Fawzi, "Recent Advances towards Validating Efficacy and Safety of African Traditional Medicines'', Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2012, 1-14.]

Project Contributors

Jennifer Hootman
Digital Humanities Librarian
William T Young Library
University of Kentucky

Robert Vaughan
Undergraduate Research Assistant
University of Kentucky

Dr. Brandon Wilson
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of History
University of Kentucky

The Bitter Aloe Project is supported by:

UK College of Arts and Sciences
UK Department of History
UK Commonwealth Institute of Black Studies