Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Another project worth a look - SI's Arctic Studies Institute

I've just been exploring the website for the Smithsonian Institution's Arctic Studies Institute "Sharing Knowledge" project. What a great project!

From their "About this project" page:

"The goals of Sharing Knowledge are to make the Smithsonian collections accessible to all and to support cross-cultural learning among Indigenous home communities, in schools, and around the world. Interest in the extraordinary arts and cultural heritage of the North is truly global in scope. Participants in this project are Elders, scholars, artists, and teachers who invite all to explore, learn, and appreciate."

They seem to have done a thorough job of community involvement in all aspects of the project. Object pages (like the one in the screenshot above) have links to video of elders talking about the objects, text transcripts of what the elders said, as well as curatorial research about particular objects and their cultural context. These are featured in a section with different tabs: "Elders' Discussion" "History" and "Visitor Comments". What's even better, the pages default to the "Elders' Discussion" tab. The page featured above has a discussion of the materials used to make the parka, as well as a related story told by an elder and translated from the native language line by line. WOW! The more I look at it, the better it gets!

In particular, this section (from the About page again) got me very excited:
"Collaborative Process

The Sharing Knowledge project seeks to follow best practices and standards for cultural research and interpretation. Interview information, including audio and video recordings, was generously provided for public use by members of Indigenous communities, with their informed consent, permission, and review. All of the Washington, D.C. collections study trips were organized in coordination with regional Alaska Native organizations, including the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association, IƱupiat Heritage Center, Kawerak, Inc, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Tanana Chiefs Conference, and the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and Museum. These organizations selected and invited the participants on our behalf. For the Sugpiaq region, we thank the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository for its cooperation. Complete discussion transcripts and recordings are archived at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage, with copies provided to the cooperating regional organizations. A statewide panel of Alaska Native and museum advisors (see Credits) has provided overall guidance on exhibition and web design. We hope and expect that the site will provide a significant resource for cultural heritage programs throughout the project region."

This project will probably become my favorite example of the kind of thing we're trying to build. Certainly worth a look!

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