Why Fichoz? Coping with complexity and fragmented material
The historiography of decolonization in Cameroon is particularly fragmented and polarized. Consequently, the endeavor has failed, with very few exceptions, to go beyond the classical oppositions of ethnicity/social classes, urban/rural, resistance/cooperation, youth/seniority and educated/non-educated people. While some scholars have unveiled the complexity of the ways to politics in contemporary Africa, Cameroon remains strikingly undocumented when it comes to shedding light on embedded social activities and ambivalent postures of various actors. The goal of my study is to cross point of views and highlight cases of politicizing masses in an African colonial setting – not only amongst the elites – with a special effort on taking into account the mix of multiple cultural layers and reticular social activities. In this respect, the project is clearly multi-disciplinary.
This overwhelming complexity conducted me to develop different strategies in order not to get lost. It means stay focused about my point, be able to plan my work efficiently and – yes! - still have a lot of fun while working.
First of all, I digitize every bit of archives. Secondly, I use under Zotero a specific status has been given to each document .
« litf » here means the record has been fully read, tagged (TheBrain ) and spit into actions under Filemaker (Fichoz). These codes allow me to plan my work and retrieve every piece of documentatio and the treatment applied to it.
Thirdly, I mindmapped all my ideas and concepts in Thebrain, a terrific tool allowing me to link any ideas with documents ad hoc via a tag system. Therefore, I can access any piece of information needed within a few clicks .
Lastly, I still needed a powerful tool allowing me to thoroughly analyse the relationships and interplay between a large spectrum of social actors.
Fichoz was originally developed by a group of French, Spanish and Chilean historians as part of a research project on the political and administrative structures of the Spanish Monarchy (PAPE group). It was later extended to other historical fields as part of the research programs of the LARHRA's Pole Méthode (CNRS / University of Lyon, France) . I’m very glad and lucky to collaborate with its main developer Jean Pierre Dedieu, without whom my project would have been quite different and certainly less ambitious.
Fichoz is a database system for the global storage of social history data. Social must be understood in its broadest meaning: all kind of data referring to or bearing over interactions between persons, between persons and corporations, between corporations, between persons and the artefacts they produce, between persons and their natural surroundings, between artefacts and artefacts. In my case, the relational matrix is simplified for I do not use artefacts in storing data. My main concern is about men and networks, even though the use of cultural objects is quite relevant in my study.
Transforming a source into data, storing and retrieving
We split records into actions, so that each record should correspond to one action and each field to one descriptive dimension of the action. An action can be described under five dimensions: who (actor), what (predicate), when, where, and significantly with whom.
1. Name of the first actor in a relationship pair (empty in case of non-relational actions): With whom? Martin Abega in the example whose biography can easily be accessed.
2. Id of the first actor: an actor can be named differently according to different sources.
3. Class of relationship between the first and the second actor. Here “opposition” is a generic relationship. It also can be more specific according to researchers needs.
4 Id of the second actor.
5. Name of the second actor in a relationship pair, or of the unique actor in non-relational actions: Who? Robert Maurage in the example. All kinds of actions, interactions, artefacts related to him can be displayed in a click.
6. Action or relationship: What?
7. Initial date and final date (When?)
8. Place of action (Where?) 9. Source: Every piece of digitized records can be retrieved to get the full information in its context if needed.
10. Remarks and contextual notes
Every piece of the split data must be self-sufficient, and must refer to one easy-to-identify concept. Historical matters demand that the implicit information carried by the fact that various information are mentioned within the same documentary set be preserved, as quite important a clue to reconstruct social reality from partial sources.
In order to be relevant, retrieving is all about flexibility. Because of the uncertainties inherent to any research, a researcher must be able to access the data he is handling from whatever angle he thinks fit, which means that starting from any part of the database, he must be able to reach any information stored in any other part.
Enhancing stored data
Through permanent coding, the enhancement process is to make explicit an information which in the source remains sometimes implicit, embedded as it is in its context. In this example, all Chefs de canton and groupement can be accessed through the code CCISTA
On-the-way" coding is quite different. It marks actors, actions, documents or places, that is anyone of the elements which compose the database, after criteria decided upon by the user in function of the demands of the research he is presently carrying on. It makes possible an easy access to complex sets of data, and provides markers to create classes which did not previously exist in the data. In this example, we have pinned down some of the civil servants in Yaounde the vote of the Loi-cadre Deferre in December 1956. We have labelled the group as “FonctYa