How can we use digitization as a way of making museum collections more interesting and useful for the general public, and especially for people in the places the objects once came from? How could we collaborate with such source communities to improve the object documentation and give collections more life?
These were questions that preoccupied me as I was working on the revision and digitization of the ethnographic collection of the Museum of Cultural History (University of Oslo, Norway). Fortunately I got a Museum Practice Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution to look into this and so until late September I will look at how the Smithsonian works in this field:)
I’m currently at the Smithsonian Artic Studies Center (ASC) at Anchorage Museum (Anchorage, Alaska), looking at activities related to the new multi-disciplinary Smithsonian program “Recovering Voices: A Learning Archive for Endangered Languages and Indigenous Knowledge” (National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of the American Indian and Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage , Washington D.C).
The starting point for my project was the ASC database “Sharing Knowledge” which is the result of a long digitization process of the Smithsonian Alaska Natives collection in cooperation with representatives of the various source communities. This database is innovative because of its focus on contextual information and local Native languages. The artefacts that became virtually accessible through the database are now on display in the new exhibition “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska” in Anchorage Museum. These Alaska Native artefacts are therefore now also physically closer to their source communities and the exhibition is specially designed for easy access and community use. The ASC continues its work with source communities as part of the new and wider Smithsonian program “Recovering Voices” that will try to support revitalization of indigenous languages and knowledge through collection based activities.
From July to late September I will be in Washington DC to look closer at the start up of the Recovering Voices and learn about other Smithsonian collaboration projects.
I’m doing observations and short interviews with staff, project members and museum visitors in order to get both institutional and personal views on these projects and on digitized collections and source communities in general.
The fieldwork will mostly be done on site in different Smithsonian branches, but I hope to use this blog and my page at Museum 3.0 to exchange ideas with people anywhere:)