What I first liked about this collection website is the richness in contextual information, which is so much more than the usual “tombstone information” (provenience, date, measurements, etc.) found on most online catalogs. Here each object record has the name of the object in its local language (some with an audio-file for correct pronunciation), a high definition image (some in rotatable 360degrees), archival images and three tabs offering different –and yet complimentary- interpretations of the object.
The Elders’ discussion tab contains edited transcripts from when groups of Alaska Natives visited the Smithsonian collections in Washington DC and shared their personal knowledge about objects from their community. Even though the museum objects were older than the oldest of the Elders they could remember equivalent objects used in their childhood or stories about such objects. Seeing and touching the objects brought back memories and even vocabulary they hadn’t used in a very long time.
The history tab shares the anthropological or curatorial knowledge gathered about the object from collectors’ notes, accession data and literature. Curator Aron Crowell read any piece of literature on the objects and would often find that this information goes very well with what the Elders were telling.
The comment tab is open for comments from the public about the object in question. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any comments made and this reaffirms my belief that the challenge of making users interested enough to contribute with comments is greater than the problem of spamming and irrelevant comments. However it turned out that they had received comments, but that only ten percent were real and none had been posted on the website yet because of technical problems.
In addition to the object records the site has an interactive map and introductions to each Alaska Native people -and some of the Elders and cultural advisors- written by representatives from the respective communities. There is also a tour where the objects are used to tell stories about important aspects of culture –like whaling for the Inupiat.
Like anything else this website could have been better, and probably would have been if they had gotten funding for further developments, but for being five years old it is still very good and looks almost new.