College of Liberal Arts

The Chronicle

A Newsletter of Research & Creative Activity, Scholarship, Teaching, & Service  |  Fall 2011
Photo: Kimberly Christen

Kimberly Christen

Grant expands outreach of digital archive tool

By Phyllis Shier, College of Liberal Arts

A recent grant and matching funds totaling nearly $1 million will allow a WSU faculty member to continue to help indigenous communities digitally manage and preserve their cultural heritage materials.

The funds will allow Kimberly Christen (associate professor, critical culture, gender, and race studies) and her team to evaluate and refine Mukurtu, a standards-based, adaptable, open-source digital archive and content management system software tool. Christen, who also directs digital projects at the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies, has worked on the project for five years.

"This ongoing effort . . . has been a grassroots, collaborative project based on the expressed needs of indigenous communities concerned with managing, preserving, and protecting their cultural heritage materials," she said.

Updating, adding to software

Christen was awarded a $484,772 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The award was augmented by $497,936 in matching funds from WSU, the Center for Digital Archaeology at UC Berkeley, Smallbean Inc., CivicActions Inc., and the National Anthropological Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution.

In March 2010, the Mukurtu project was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to produce the beta version of the tool. The recent funds will make it possible to collaborate on continuing development of the Mukurtu software tool suite.

"It will allow us to update and add key core modules to the software based on direct feedback from indigenous community users of Mukurtu," Christen said.

Sharing culture in acceptable fashion

Mukurtu embodies the concept of "a safe keeping place" for the Warumungu people. Located in Australia, they were the first aboriginal community to benefit from the software.

While open-source and commercial tools work well for building and operating organizational digital libraries, they are less suited to the needs of tribal libraries, archives, and museums. This is due in part to cultural protocols for sharing information, diverse intellectual property systems among indigenous peoples, and the fractured or distributed nature of collections about indigenous groups.

Traditional knowledge licenses, created in partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization, aid indigenous communities in preserving, managing, and sharing cultural heritage materials in ways that are acceptable to them.

Christen's team will evaluate and continue to update the traditional knowledge licenses used within Mukurtu to help guide access and use guidelines for digital heritage materials internally and externally.

Workshops funded

New funding will also provide support for community design and implementation workshops in partnership with the Center for Digital Archaeology at UC Berkeley.

Christen holds a Ph.D. in the history of consciousness from the University of California at Santa Cruz. She has been a featured guest on the BBC radio program "Digital Planet" and is past recipient of a Northwest Academic Computing Consortium grant and an American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development.

In 2011, IMLS received 210 applications for National Leadership Grants requesting more than $80,100,000 in funds. The institute awarded 48 grants totaling $14,661,217 matched with $12,929,824 of nonfederal funds.

"National Leadership grantees help advance the museums, libraries, and archives field," said IMLS director Susan Hildreth. "We believe that each of these grants will advance the museum, library, and archive professions through new research and the creation and dissemination of innovative tools, models, and activities that can be shared broadly."

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