Grant furthers research
Digital archiving tool to give voice to indigenous peoples
Christen has been awarded a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a prototype open-source software package to reconnect indigenous communities with cultural heritage materials housed in museums, archives and libraries.
The $49,606 grant supports the development of “Mukurtu: An Indigenous Archive and Publishing Tool,” a digital, standards-based, adaptable archiving tool that emphasizes cultural protocols and provides a means for indigenous knowledge to inform public and private collections.
From the annotation of institutional metadata to the reconstruction and revitalization of lost or endangered languages, the software will give indigenous communities the opportunity to curate their own cultural heritage materials without a hierarchy of expertise.
“This tool makes it possible for indigenous communities themselves to manage those materials in ways that are culturally appropriate, and we are putting indigenous knowledge on the same level as that of the collecting institutions,” said Christen.
Mukurtu is the third phase of Christen’s long-term research. It builds on her success with the original Mukurtu Archive - a culturally sensitive and flexible digital archive built to virtually repatriate photographs, videos and artifacts to the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Australia’s Northern Territory - and with the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal - where Christen introduced the idea of interactive knowledge sharing.
Christen will work with lead developer and software advisor Craig Dietrich and his team at the University of Southern California Institute for Multimedia Literacy to construct the archiving tool. In mid-2011 it will become available for free download by indigenous communities worldwide through an open website supported by both USC and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
WIPO is a specialized agency of the United Nations dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property system. It has partnered with the Mukurtu project to aid indigenous communities in managing the intellectual property rights of their cultural heritage materials.
“(The software) has to be, for me, both open source and no cost,” said Christen. “It has to be a tool that any community, from the Masai in Africa to the Yakama here in the [Columbia] Plateau, can download and use to manage their cultural heritage materials, and that includes endangered languages.”
Christen has been a featured guest on the BBC radio program “Digital Planet” and is the recent recipient of a Northwest Academic Computing Consortium grant and an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Digital Innovation Fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.