Research: Digital Cultural Heritage Projects

Jul 18, 2021

One of the most important objectives of the Advancing Pathways project is to make more accessible the cultural heritage of the Native and Indigenous communities that are represented in our Library and Hood collections. When descendant communities have both access and decision-making influence over cultural heritage that belongs to their families and nations, they can share their expertise and traditional knowledges to guide institutions on how to present, preserve, or even repatriate those cultural heritage materials. As we begin this important exploration of the digital tools that exist to facilitate this process, we have been testing established open-source software–meaning software that is contributed to and built iteratively by its users—like Mukurtu, Reciprocal Research Network (RRN), and implementing Traditional Knowledge labels like those outlined by Local Contexts. Through this testing, we are exploring best protocols in working with and returning access to Indigenous communities, as well as the ways in which digital tools can assist communities to safely govern, share, and distribute information about their cultures. 

An example of this work is with the Abenaki at Odanak, whose cultural heritage is represented both in the Gordon Day Papers in the Rauner Special Collections Library and the Hood Museum’s collections. We are carefully approaching conversations on the ways in which Dartmouth should provide access and listen to direction from the tribal nation on how to move forward. We will be presenting a sample Mukurtu site highlighting some of these materials in a way that is highly secure and allows for specific access by the tribal nation in order to interact with the materials. We have prepared for our Mukurtu experiments by researching successful projects, attending several Mukurtu-led workshops, and reviewing online materials and documentation to explore potential site configurations, and are eager to build on our prototype work as we gain experience and gather feedback.

Another example of the potential of using digital platforms is our work with our partners at the Sealaska Heritage Institute. After a successful virtual visit earlier this year, we plan to inquire about which of the Tlingit cultural heritage in our collections might be uploaded to the RRN to leverage the knowledge of other community members, scholars, curators, and academic researchers with RRN access. We have been especially encouraged by our newly formed relationship with Sue Rowley at University of British Columbia as the head of the RRN team. 

We are also considering how our Special Collections teams might add additional useful collection metadata. We are working with our Special Collections Technology Coordinator to test out how we may implement Traditional Knowledge labels within ArchiveSpace. Adding Traditional Knowledge labels will allow for improved search as well as additional contextualization, including acknowledgement and awareness of a specific community’s worldviews, and more complex aspects of Native Nations data. 

We hope that we can utilize these digital platforms to meet the needs of tribal communities in a respectful, reciprocal way that both honors and relies on traditional knowledges from our Native partners.