Transatlantic project to focus on digital decolonisation of heritage collections

Gary Hughes
Picture by Thought Catalog

A new binational humanities project aims to develop a reciprocal, consultative model for decolonisation of heritage collections through digital tools, in collaboration with a tribal college library and archives in the USA, and a museum and library in the UK.

Funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the USA’s National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the 12-month Indigenous Knowledges pilot project involves Kent’s Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies, Diné College Special Collections and Kinyaa’áanii Charlie Benally Library (Navajo Nation), Arizona Southwest Center (US), and Wellcome Collection (UK). The focus will involve parallel sample selections of items from Kinyaa’áanii Special Collections and Wellcome.

It is expected that the Indigenous Knowledges project’s model will expand sensitised and mindful access to Indigenous materials in non-Indigenous collections, thereby enriching broadly the understanding of such materials and their contexts by cultural heritage practitioners, students, and the public at large. Digital channels offer an immediate opportunity to explore these increasingly urgent issues of curatorial practice across international boundaries.

David Stirrup, Professor of American Literature and Indigenous Studies at Kent’s School of English, and Director of The Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies, said: ‘Our Centre was founded on a commitment to build and broker ethical, collaborative relationships with Indigenous communities and organisations – and between those groups and UK-based researchers, curators, charities, and other groups. The Indigenous Knowledges initiative presents a hugely exciting opportunity to explore decolonising solutions in the digital sphere that can both provide a framework for connecting communities to collections in the UK and examine best practice in Indigenous Knowledges protocols at sites like the Kinyaa’áanii Charlie Benally Library.’

Assistant Professor Rhiannon Sorrell from the Kinyaa’áanii Charlie Benally Library, Diné College, said: ‘Over 50 years ago, Diné College (formerly Navajo Community College) was established as the first tribally chartered and controlled institution in the United States. Since then, as Diné College and other tribal colleges continue to make headway in becoming four-year and graduate institutions, it has become increasingly imperative to establish Indigenous Knowledges protocols and best practices with visiting scholars, especially in international contexts and collaborations. The Diné College Library is excited to be part of shaping the digital landscape through this collaboration with the University of Kent and Wellcome Collection.’

Jennifer Jenkins, Professor of English and Southwest Studies at the University of Arizona, added: ‘The University of Arizona sits on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples and strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service. We are thrilled to support this transatlantic partnership dedicated to decolonising Indigenous materials and cross-training with University of Kent faculty and students.’

Alexandra Eveleigh, Collections Information Manager at Wellcome Collection, commented: ‘Through the Indigenous Knowledges initiative, Wellcome Collection hopes to move closer to its ambition of connecting the images and archives in our collections with people for whom they hold significance. We look forward to working with, and learning from, our project partners and to co-developing digital models and frameworks which can form the basis for long-term reciprocal collaboration.’