Chair: Serge Cipko – University of Alberta 

Natalie Kononenko – University of Alberta

Natalie Kononenko is Professor and Kule Chair in Ukrainian Ethnography at the University of Alberta. She holds degrees from Radcliffe College and Harvard University. Prior to coming to the University of Alberta, Kononenko taught at the University of Virginia and served as Assistant Dean and Department Chair. Kononenko has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Canada, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. Her publications include Slavic Folklore: A Handbook, and the award-winning Ukrainian Minstrels: And the Blind Shall Sing, along with edited books, book chapters, and numerous articles. Her book Ukrainian Epic and Historical Song: Folklore in Context is due to be published by the University of Toronto Press. Kononenko’s interests extent beyond folklore into the realm of digital technologies and the presentation of ethnographic data online.


Folklore fieldwork typically produces massive data sets and this has become especially true with the use of digital recording technologies. Handling the quantity of data produced presents many challenges. Sanctuary: The Spiritual Heritage Documentation Project (Sanctuary Project for short), has been collecting data in the prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, photographing churches and their contents and also interviewing parishioners about their practices, specifically the rituals of marriage, birth, and death and holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Our work began in 2009 and, to date, has produced over 300,000 images and approximately 200 hours of sound. This panel deals with the problems of managing the sound files and producing functional websites where researchers and the general public can access the data collected.

Transcribing recordings is an effective way to produce searchable text, but is too time-consuming to be realistic. Transcribed text also has the disadvantage of losing the information carried in intonation, voice modulation, and the other performative qualities of speech. Most digital sound file databases currently index their files and make them computer-searchable, with the user having the capacity to go directly to the point in a recording where a particular topic is discussed. But which metadata should one use to create the index?

With the help of programmer Eric Zang, Natalie Kononenko produced a very early searchable sound file database that coded and presented the recordings she made in Ukraine. It used metadata that she had generated from the Ukrainian data itself. With the Sanctuary Project, the choice was to switch to the International Ethnographic Thesaurus (hence IET) to make the materials more widely accessible.

There are many issues when the IET and these will be discussed in this panel. Kononenko will address adding new categories to fit Ukrainian data and creating a search engine that yields a workable data set.

Lina Ye – University of Alberta

Lina Ye is a PhD student in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta, finishing this year her studies in contemporary Russian religious literature. Lina taught Russian language and literature at Beijing Foreign Studies University, China, for more than 10 years before moving to Canada. She is interested in linguistics and translation and volunteered as interpreter/translator for Edmonton Chinese and Russian communities. In 2015-2016, Lina participated in indexing the sound files within the framework of the Sanctuary project.


In 2015 and 2016, I helped Dr. Kononenko in indexing audio recordings of the interviews she made during her field trips to the Prairie Provinces between 2010 and 2016. The basic template used for indexing categories was the American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus which wasn’t a perfect match for Ukrainian material. The thesaurus was designed to be universally accommodating, therefore Ukrainian-specific objects or customs, their unique features couldn’t be reflected by its categorization very well. For the research website we started to develop a more descriptive template to better accommodate interview content concerning religious holidays, adding more levels to the existing American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus.

We tried to determine a sensible time length when segmenting the interviews, originally deciding to have each segment at least 5 to 10 minutes long. Any fragment of less than a minute was deemed undesirable because in the short time, without context it could sound pretty isolated to the listener, its meaning hard to grasp. Therefore, in order for a fragment to appear more understandable in clear context, it had to have bigger volume, to contain more dialogue exchanges, but then the categorization accuracy would be compromised, because the interviewees would often stray away from the topic and came back to it a moment later, or the conversation might just go down that road and open a new topic. If the strayed part sounded like some random thoughts, then I tended to put it within the bigger, main topic; if the topic was left permanently and actually a new topic of interest began, then it had to be indexed separately. Sometimes a straying topic also caused problems determining a certain category’s context.

Daria Polianska – University of Alberta

Daria Polianska is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Alberta, department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies. She specializes in Ukrainian modernist literature of the early twentieth century; literary criticism and trauma studies. Daria’s interests also include folklore and cultural studies. Over a year ago, she joined the Sanctuary project under the supervision of Dr. Natalie Kononenko. Daria works on selecting relevant categories and indexing sound files.


“Sanctuary” is the project that documents sound and digital materials about endangered Ukrainian churches, church contents, and ritual practices across Canadian prairies. Significant factors in maintaining productive archival work are teamwork, time sensitivity in conducting and processing fieldwork resources, clarity about the project goals and decision-making. This presentation deals with some of the challenges of indexing sound files. Among some of them are familiarity with cultural phenomena, a fast change of topics within the interview and objectivity of the researcher when choosing the sequence and spelling of categories and subcategories, and documenting time intervals within the file. Thus, as an example, I will use categories like “marriage” and “ritual meals,” and their subcategories. I will demonstrate some problems that arise when applying the categories from the AFC Ethnographic Thesaurus to the Ukrainian context.

For instance, some of the marriage subcategories like “wreath making” are not in the Thesaurus but are often mentioned in Ukrainian interviews. Another challenge is to properly choose subcategories. At times, there are more than two names for similar subcategories (e.g., Grave Blessing or Provody), and there is a slight difference between them, based on cultural discrepancies. In other cases, subcategories within a Thesaurus are not organized sequentially. Thus, we see: ritual { rites of passage { marriage { weddings { church weddings. Yet, there is a different sequence for the wedding parties: ritual { rites of passage { marriage { wedding parties, where the subcategory “weddings” between “marriage” and “wedding parties” is skipped. Consequently, one of the problems that arise when indexing subcategories like this is how to fit the reality of Ukrainian cultural context into the already existent American system that does not have these equivalents.

Ashley Halko-Addley – University of Alberta

Ashley D.K. Halko-Addley completed a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Anthropology at the University of Saskatchewan in 2017. Currently, she is a Master of Arts candidate in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. Focusing on Ukrainian Folklore, her current research interests are in Ukrainian-Canadian culture, symbolic healing, cultural preservation, and cultural revival. She is a Research Assistant at the Kule Folklore Centre, University of Alberta.


In September 2017, I was tasked with using the audio recorded interviews and photographs from Sanctuary: The Spiritual Heritage Documentation Project (Sanctuary Project for short) to create vignettes for a website that would be accessible to the general public. Often times, informants give their time to be a part of a research project, but do not have access to something tangible that has come out of it. My goal was to capture and present something representative of the project out of the material. In interviews, such as these very interviews which were used, the data comes from real people who may wander in the course of an interview. Fieldwork means dealing with real people who may switch back and forth between topics, forcing the person indexing the files to decide which of several alternating topics dominates. While indexed interviews are invaluable to a researcher who is looking for information on a particular ritual, this indexing proved to be ineffective for my work. I was looking for the stories which were either unique and different, or which were repeated by several informants from an area or time period. In order to gain a complete view of the data and to locate these stories, I listened to the majority of interviews which were recorded, which equals approximately 200 hours of sound. I will speak about the challenges of using data that I myself did not collect to create a website to give the general public access the data collected. These issues include not only issues of logistics, but also issues pertaining to choosing which stories to turn into vignettes and which not to.