Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation
Established in 2014
Staff: 10 plus students assistants
The Washington State University (WSU) Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation (CDSC), formally established in 2014, was the culmination of longstanding collaborations between WSU Libraries and the College of Arts and Sciences. The libraries, well versed in digitizing unique collections since 1999 and having established WSU’s institutional repository, were seen as a logical partner and central location in which to bring together the growing number of digital projects emerging across campus.
The partnership between the libraries and the college is reflected in the leadership of the CDSC; it is led by two co-directors: Kimberly Christen Withey, associate professor in the Department of English and Trevor J. Bond, associate dean for digital initiatives and special collections. In conversations with ARL, Bond described the center’s key mission and goals in serving both the WSU and broader communities by cultivating digital projects and tool development. But he noted an important distinguishing feature of the CDSC’s raison d’être. At the heart of the center is an enduring focus on indigenous cultural heritage and the unique ethical considerations that are associated with curating, sharing, and preserving such heritage. This mirrors much of Professor Withey’s research focus—she examines the juxtaposition of cultural heritage, intellectual property rights, and the use of digital technologies in and by indigenous communities in local, national, and global contexts.
The staffing of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation has recently grown from eight to ten members, plus five student assistants. In addition to the two co-directors, the team includes a director of technology, a tribal digital archives curriculum coordinator, digital applications librarian, scholarly communications librarian, information technology specialist, project archivist, and a Sustainable Heritage Network project assistant. A visiting assistant professor of digital humanities works with this year’s two graduate assistants. The team is rounded out with three undergraduate student assistants.
The research focus of CDSC activities falls into both the local WSU context and extends beyond on to the national stage. National initiatives include the Mukurtu Content Management System, the Sustainable Heritage Network, and the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal and are described in more depth below.
Closer to home, the CDSC works with the WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation unit to explore ways that open educational resources (OERs) could be developed and proliferated throughout the WSU curriculum. Workshops on digital storytelling are on offer to students, faculty, and external community members alike. Digital literacy workshops are offered to all students regardless of discipline.
Given its formal launch in late 2014, the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation has been prolific on a number of fronts in the past year and a half. In summer of 2015, the CDSC announced its first hands-on training offering in digital stewardship. This was tied in with the launch of the larger Tribal Stewardship Cohort Program.
The Tribal Stewardship Cohort Program: Digital Heritage Management, Archiving, and Mukurtu CMS Training project was made possible by a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to establish training for tribal archives, libraries, and museums (TALMs). The first cohort included participants from six tribal nations from across the US. Training included both in-person and virtual sessions that addressed issues such as developing policies, archival management, and physical preservation. Each tribal representative was also provided with their own instance of Mukurtu (see below) along with in-depth training on its use.
WSU’s Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation has made great strides in fulfilling its core mission to “promote meaningful collaborations using technology in ethically minded and socially empowering ways.” Exemplified in particular by the collaborative work undertaken with members of the Native American and indigenous communities, this is ground-breaking work underpinned by principles that ensure that these communities’ culturally sensitive collections, stories, artifacts, and knowledge are treated properly and respectfully. As Trevor Bond noted, there is scope for much broader application of these tools and techniques. In addition to work originally done in Australia, there are instances of Mukurtu being adopted in Canada as well. One could anticipate a burgeoning interest from a wide number of indigenous communities from around the world. The scope and potential application of a content management system like Mukurtu could be boundless. Communication will be key in drawing attention to this platform as will the subsequent training and education requirements once word gets out. As with many digital scholarship enterprises, sustainability by means of a stable source of income will be an ongoing consideration. The ideal would be to evolve from a funding model supported largely by one-time grants to a steady ongoing budget line.
Mukurtu (pronounced MOOK-oo-too) is a Warumungu Aboriginal word meaning “dilly bag”—a place of safekeeping for sacred materials. The Mukurtu project began in 2007 when members of the Warumungu community in Australia worked together with Kimberly Christen Withey and her colleagues to produce the Warumungu archive. Choosing to use “Murkurtu” to describe the archive served as a reminder that these archives are also places of safekeeping where stories, knowledge, and cultural materials can be shared properly using protocols appropriate to the community. The Mukurtu initiative will be significantly enhanced thanks to a major IMLS grant exceeding $640,000 that has just been awarded to WSU. Professor Withey will serve as the principal investigator (PI), joined by co-PIs Trevor Bond and Alex Merrill of WSU Libraries. The project, Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes: A Sustainable National Platform for Community Digital Archiving, draws in a number of key partners, including the University of Hawaii’s Department of Linguistics, the Alaska Native Language Archives, the University of Oregon Libraries, the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Library Services, and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Ultimately, a series of Mukurtu Hubs will be established, allowing for ongoing development of the platform, as well as the provision of training and support to tribal archives, libraries, and museums. Previously, the CDSC had also been the successful recipient of a $69,500 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
As Professor Withey noted, “This work has revolved around seeking solutions not just to the technical concerns of these institutions and communities, but also to providing workflows and models for the ethical curation, narration, and vetting of content for cultural sensitivities, linguistic concerns, and historical context, This is a technology project that is not about technology. It’s about people, promoting dialogue and collaboration.”
The Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, developed using the Mukurtu CMS, illustrates the unique features of this specialized platform. The portal exemplifies the CDSC’s emphasis on collaborative stewardship, being the result of collective contributions by the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, and Native Programs at Washington State University.
The cultural materials that can be viewed by visiting the portal come from an array of sources, including WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections; the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; and the National Anthropological Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution. In keeping with the CDSC’s overarching ethos of respectful curation, these materials have been chosen and curated by tribal representatives and arranged in tribal paths. Each path is defined by that tribe’s protocols and cultural values. When entering that path, guests can view video interviews or images of artifacts and, in some cases, listen to a welcome message.
While the Mukurtu CMS serves as the platform for making cultural heritage materials available in ethical ways, it is complemented by the CDSC’s Sustainable Heritage Network (SHN), which addresses the outreach, educational, and training needs of the network of individuals, institutions, and communities who are embarking on work in this arena. Funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and based at WSU, the SHN is an online collaborative space bringing together tribal archivists, librarians, and museum (TALM) specialists. The SHN offers educational resources (including video tutorials, documents, and conference presentations), in-person workshops, and digital workbenches and opportunities for collaborative discussion around the responsible digitization and preservation of cultural heritage.
The CDSC states that it will serve WSU and extended communities by providing “support, outreach, and training for faculty, students, and community stakeholders.” In a relatively short period of time, the center has made tremendous strides in fulfilling its mission. Looking ahead the CDSC hopes that the national dialogue around these issues can be extended, strengthened, and broadened, bringing heightened awareness to the need to balance openness with nuanced sensitivity to the unique requirements of cultural materials.
With respect to the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, Trevor Bond described the future in this way: “Whether we use the term digital humanities or something even more inclusive, it is part of the future. More than just the ability to use the technology, there is the need to understand the ethics, including analyzing the source of materials, to shift the way this work (and digital cultural heritage) is practiced.”
Acknowledgment and thanks must go to Rikk Mulligan, former ARL program officer for scholarly publishing/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) public fellow and author of the first eight digital scholarship profiles in this series. Rikk also conducted the first interviews and collected the data for this profile of Washington State University.
Catherine Davidson | firstname.lastname@example.org | November 2, 2016