This chapter examines how a combination of approaches from anthropology and data science disciplines has supported my exploration of lives lived at similar intersections. It describes work I have done at two research sites. One, through self-tracking and the quantified self, is focused internally. The other, with a community of startup developers in Jamaica, is focused on struggles to realise the potential of the global knowledge economy from its margins. While differing in their geographies and scales, both spaces allow for an interrogation of the potential of combining data science and ethnography: its new methods, modes of inquiry and modes of expression. For both myself and those I work with, data acts a conduit across borders of nation, history and flesh, promising new existential and epistemological models, and a means of affecting personal and national transformation. Its analytical lines offer the ability to connect and communicate, to modulate ideas of difference, and to help construct new identities. I discuss the uneven realisation of this potential, and how the attempts at its operationalisation reveal productive complications and reformulations at the convergence of engineering and ethnography.
The chapter will show how both the Soviet authorities and the leaders of independent Ukraine attempted to block real investigation and commemoration at the hamlet of Bykivnia, where the NKVD buried murdered bodies from 1939-1941. The chapter will look into how their attempts failed due to pressure from within—grave robbers and activists—and, especially, without—Germany and Poland. Following this account, details about the little-known Nazi and Soviet exhumations at the site will be examined.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Poland was quite literally a vast Jewish cemetery. In fields, forests, by the side of roads, and in Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, the corpses of dead Jews were buried helter-skelter in mass graves, partially buried in an apparent rush, or even left unburied. Even Jews who had no intentions of remaining in postwar Poland returned to their home towns resolved to fulfill a solemn duty to give the dead a proper burial, if possible in a Jewish cemetery. Using several yizkor books, this chapter will examine the efforts of Polish Jewish survivors to exhume the corpses of their dead and then rebury them with dignity in accordance with Jewish ritual and the role of memory in depiction of this act.
The chapter will examine how forensic scientists, including anthropologists, have been exploring the potential of new methods and processes in the resolution of mass grave contexts. The introduction of DNA to contexts where these challenges exist has had some success in the Balkans and in Guatemala, two areas that have experienced brutal civil wars for a number of years. More recently, the analysis of elemental and osteometric measures on the body have demonstrated potential in attempts to re-associate remains. Ultimately however, technological developments complement extensive ante-mortem investigation and the two cannot be utilised independently if the required end result is to successfully identify victims.