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Digitizing Indigenous History: Trends and Challenges

Digitizing Indigenous History: Trends and Challenges
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  This article was downloaded by: [University of New Hampshire]On: 23 September 2014, At: 08:19Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Victorian Culture Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Digitizing Indigenous History: Trendsand Challenges Siobhan Senier aa  University of New HampshirePublished online: 19 Sep 2014. To cite this article:  Siobhan Senier (2014) Digitizing Indigenous History: Trends and Challenges,Journal of Victorian Culture, 19:3, 396-402, DOI: 10.1080/13555502.2014.947188 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the“Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at  DIGITAL FORUM Digitizing Indigenous History: Trends and Challenges Siobhan Senier [I]f ‘archive’ is the name we give to the power to make and command what took placehere or there.  . . .  [then] the postcolonial archive cannot be merely a collection of new artifacts reflecting a different, subjugated history. Instead, the postcolonial archive mustdirectly address the problem of the endurance of the otherwise within – or distinctfrom – this form of power  . . .  the material conditions that allow something to bearchived and archivable; the compulsions and desires that conjure the appearance anddisappearance of objects, knowledges and socialities within an archive; the cultures of circulation, manipulation and management that allow an object to enter the archive andthus contribute to the endurance of specific social formations. 1 This is an exciting time for digitizing indigenous history. Leading digital humanists areengaging tribal communities in the creation of powerful online archives. The ground-breaking  Mukurtu  content management system (CMS), for example, is built on thevery premise of indigenous curation or co-curation; it lets indigenous people controlexactly what materials will be made visible on the Web, and under what conditions. 2 Meanwhile, tribal communities are rapidly creating their own digital spaces. Thesetake a range of forms from impromptu practices like sharing and annotating historicphotographs on  Facebook   to sophisticated apps for language revitalization.If #dhpoco – the movement inspired by Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam – callsupon scholars to rethink both the digital and the postcolonial, then the indigenousnineteenth century calls upon us to rethink both. 3 The major collections of NativeAmerican, First Nations, Absrcinal and other indigenous materials amassed duringthis period are the products of a global, imperial enterprise to steal cultural materialswholesale from indigenous communities, in service to the myth that those cultureswere dying. Colonial theft and vanishing race stories may not have been inventedduring the nineteenth century, but this was the period of unprecedented andcoordinated archive building in the service of settler colonial supremacy. The RoyalSociety of Canada, the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), and other professionalentities conducted a mission of so-called ‘salvage anthropology’, fanning out in search q 2014 Leeds Trinity University  1. Elizabeth Povinelli, ‘The Woman on the Other Side of the Wall: Archiving the Otherwise inPostcolonial Digital Archives’,  Differences , 22.1 (2011), 146–171 (p. 152).2. See , .  [accessed 6 March 2014].3. The #dhpoco mission statement is available at , . [accessed 20 March 2014].  Journal of Victorian Culture , 2014Vol. 19, No. 3, 396–402,    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   N  e  w   H  a  m  p  s   h   i  r  e   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   9   2   3   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  of what they liked to call (erroneously) ‘the last of the tribe’. The BAE, for its part,transcribed and published countless traditional oral narratives that tribal people feelshould not be shared outside of their home communities or ceremonial contexts; italso published a few that were simply bogus, ‘translated’ for them by Native peoplewho had the last laugh. 4 So the postcolonial digital archive will have to go far beyond scanning anduploading such materials, and further still than laying bare the ideologies structuringthese collections. In what follows, I survey some trends in the digitization of indigenous materials and sketch out some structural challenges. My argument is thatthe most visible and best-funded digital archives have tended to privilege colonialcollections over those stewarded, often for centuries, by tribal communitiesthemselves. In other words, large state-sponsored granting institutions have tendedto support preservation and access primarily for  non -Native institutions: museums,universities and antiquarian societies, which hold collections from donors whomay have come by their Native materials unethically, or fabricated them inthe first place. ‘Indigenous digital archives’, as they are broadly understood at themoment, thus continue to marginalize non-colonial collections and non-colonialpractices – newsletters saved in tribal offices, photographs cherished in family collections, artworks still in current use, and living oral traditions. These tell a very different story. Trends How to decolonize ethnographic archives in digital space? In  Performing Archive:Curtis  þ  ‘the vanishing race ’, the Claremont Center for the Digital Humanities hasdecided to tackle one of the best-known and readily available collections, the oeuvre of photographer Edward Curtis (1868–1952). 5 Curtis visited some 80 tribal nations,creating more than 2000 photogravure plates and publishing these in the magisterial20-volume collection,  The North American Indian . So determined was he to‘document’ the vanishing race that he brought along his own props, like featheredheaddresses, and edited his images to remove ‘modern’ signifiers like clocks andcowboy hats. 6 It has always been easy to find Curtis’s sepia-toned pictures; indeed ithas been hard to avoid them. They crowd out almost every other image of Indians, 4. On the BAE, see Leslie Marmon Silko, ‘An Old-time Indian Attack in Two Parts’, in  TheRemembered Earth  (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979), pp. 211–16.For an account of how Franz Boas mistranslated a dirty joke, see Judith Berman, ‘OolachanWoman’s Robe: Fish, Blankets, Masks and Meaning in Franz Boas’s Kwakw’ala Texts’, in On the Translation of Native American Literatures , ed. by Brian Swann (Washington, DC:Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), pp. 125–62.5. Amy Borsuk, Beatrice Schuster, David J. Kim, Heather Blackmore, Jacqueline Wernimont,and Ulia Gosart,  Performing Archive: Curtis þ ‘The Vanishing Race ’ (2013–) ,  .  [accessed 12 February 2014].6. One of the best expose´s is Curtis Lyman’s  The Vanishing Race and Other Illusions  (New York: Pantheon, 1982).  Journal of Victorian Culture  397    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   N  e  w   H  a  m  p  s   h   i  r  e   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   9   2   3   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  replicated as they are across postcards, T-shirts, and now websites, including theLibrary of Congress’s  American Memory   (1994–), Northwestern University’s DigitizedCollections, and numerous fine art sites.In order to build  Performing Archive , scholars and their undergraduate studentsused the publishing platform  Scalar   to aggregate materials from these various websitesinto a gorgeous online book. They structure this book along designated interpretivepaths: e.g. ‘Curtis Image and Life’; ‘Contextualizing Curtis, The North AmericanIndian and Race’. A video essay asks users to think about their own consumption of racial tropes; a network visualization of Curtis’s titles and subject descriptions calls hisauthority to name into question. Thus,  Performing Archive  is not merely acompendium of Edward Curtis’s work; rather, it is – as its title means to suggest – acritical examination of the very business of archival knowing itself. Still in its early stages, the site also promises to make space for a range of user response andinvolvement, from commentary to actual editing and page creation, and for futurecollaboration with tribal communities.The creation of such critical portals is one approach to decolonizing indigenousarchives. Another is known as ‘digital repatriation’, whereby libraries, museums andother heritage institutions create electronic surrogates of items that are thentheoretically available to the source communities that created them. A model is Gibagadinamaagoom , led by the American Philosophical Society’s (APS) Timothy B. Powell, one of the most thoughtful scholars working with indigenous digitalarchives today. 7 Like  Performing Archive , this site is nascent, but it has taken almost theopposite approach: instead of uploading primary documents and curatorial essaysfirst, with the intent of making space for Native input later,  Gibagadinamaagoom  hasso far uploaded only one item – a birchbark drawing of a thunderbird, an importantfigure in Ojibwe cosmology – and given the lion’s share of the space to the voices of Ojibwe elders. The  first   thing a site user encounters is the long Ojibwe title, with anmp3 file of that word being spoken, and a written explanation that this word means ‘tobring to life, to sanction, to give permission’. Instead of the usual thumbnail imagesand explanatory captions, this site ‘features chi-aah ya agg (“wisdom keepers”) tellingstories and teaching about traditional codes of conduct  . . .  in their own language, andon their own cultural terms’. 8 Gibagadinamaagoom  represents a concerted attempt toindigenize digital space, deliberately defamiliarizing for non-Ojibwe users, andundoubtedly for some Ojibwe too.Other digital repatriation efforts strive to give indigenous communities greateraccess to historic materials written  about   them. One of the most sophisticated, the  YaleIndian Papers Project   ( YIPP  ), addresses a central problem in the historiography of indigenous New England, specifically: ‘a general lack of published primary source 7.  Gibagadinamaagoom  (2012)  , .  [accessed 12February 2014].8. Timothy Powell and Larry Aitken, ‘Encoding Culture: Building a Digital Archive Based onTraditional Ojibwe Teachings’, in  The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age , ed. by Amy E. Earhart and Andrew Jewell (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010),pp. 250–74. 398  Siobhan Senier     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   N  e  w   H  a  m  p  s   h   i  r  e   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   9   2   3   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  materials, despite the existence of thousands of relevant documents’. 9 Coordinatingseveral significant repositories,  YIPP   is building a database of high-quality, open-access facsimiles and annotated transcriptions. Astutely apprehending that it is notenough to create a pdf file of, for instance, an 1830 census of the Mohegan reservationin Connecticut, the  YIPP   is involving tribal historians in the selection, transcription,and – eventually – annotation of these documents. In the long run, the lead scholarshope, ‘the consultants’ annotations might include Native srcin stories, oral sources,and traditional beliefs while also including Euro-American srcinal sources of thesame historical event or phenomena, thus offering two kinds of narratives of thepast’. 10 In  Performing Archive ,  Gibagadinamaagoom , and the  YIPP  , close consultation withindigenous people and space for indigenous interpretation (or at least the intention of such) is key. Everybody working in this area owes a debt to anthropologist Kimberly Christen, who has taken the international conversation around digital repatriation animportant step further by creating  Mukurtu . After many years of fieldwork with anAbsrcinal Australian community, Christen wanted to create an electronic catalog of her photographs and videos. Reviewing these images with tribal members, she foundthat they had deeply nuanced ideas about which images should be shared, and withwhom. Some should be seen only within specific kin groups; still others should bemade available only to people with particular ritual knowledge. Christen andcolleagues translated this model – one that complicates the usual dichotomies of public/private, open/closed – into  Mukurtu , a free, open source CMS that allowscommunities to set their own electronic protocols for the sharing, viewing andcuration of their materials.As Christen puts it, ‘If the colonial idea of the archive was to collect and store theworld’s treasures for the betterment of mankind, this emerging Warumungu archive ispart of an intimate set of kinship relations and a dynamic socioterritorial network thatrubs up against national territorial boundaries and legal structures aimed at protectingindigenous culture’. 11 Allowing tribal relations, rather than the demands of the settlergaze, to structure this archive is what makes it post (or anti-) colonial. 12 Thispostcolonial archive is self-reflexively emergent and contingent. Non-Warumungucannot ‘visit’ it and get complete ‘access’ to its holdings; rather, they must approachthrough a portal that, first, cautions them that much of the information is off-limits 9. ‘Yale Indian Papers Project Summary’,  Yale Indian Papers Project   (2007–)  , .  [accessed 12 February 2014].10. Paul Grant-Costa, Tobias Glaza and Michael Sletcher. ‘The Common Pot: Editing NativeAmerican Materials’,  Scholarly Editing  , 33 (2012). Available at , .  [accessed 20 May 2013].11. Kimberly Christen, ‘Gone Digital: Aboriginal Remix and the Cultural Commons’, International Journal of Cultural Property  , 12.3 (2005), 315–345 (p. 317).12. Jace Weaver (Cherokee) discusses the indigenous argument that there is nothing ‘post’about settler colonialism in ‘Indigenousness and Indigeneity’, in  A Companion toPostcolonial Studies , ed. by Henry Schwarz and Sangeeta Ray (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell,2000), pp. 221–35.  Journal of Victorian Culture  399    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   N  e  w   H  a  m  p  s   h   i  r  e   ]  a   t   0   8  :   1   9   2   3   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   4

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