Bringing Heritage Home: Electronic Access, Digital Repatriation, and the Sharing of Knowledges about Great Lakes Indigenous Traditions

Ruth Phillips, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair in Modern Culture, Professor of Art History, Carleton University

IARC Speaker Series, SAR Boardroom

Thursday, February 25, 2010, 5:30–6:30 pm

Ruth Phillips, Ph.D.Ruth Phillips, Ph.D.Bringing Heritage Home: Electronic Access, Digital Repatriation, and the Sharing of Knowledges about Great Lakes Indigenous Traditions

Photograph by Jennifer Day.
Ruth Phillips, Ph.D.Bringing Heritage Home: Electronic Access, Digital Repatriation, and the Sharing of Knowledges about Great Lakes Indigenous Traditions

Photograph by Jennifer Day.
Ruth PhillipsRuth PhillipsRuth PhillipsRuth PhillipsRuth PhillipsPhotograph courtesy of Ruth Phillips.Ruth PhillipsPhotograph courtesy of Ruth Phillips.

For the past five years, the Great Lakes Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures (GRASAC) has been developing a digital strategy to address the problems of fragmentation, interpretation, and access to Indigenous heritage held in museums and archives all over the world. In 2008, the researchers based in Indigenous communities, universities, and museums who make up this collaboration launched their GRASAC Knowledge Sharing software and database. This resource is the initial phase of a long-term project whose goal is to bring Aboriginal perspectives and knowledges into museums and archives and Western disciplinary knowledges and collections into Aboriginal spaces. This paper describes GRASAC’s multi-vocal and interdisciplinary approach and discusses the transformative potential of e-access to museum and archival collections for de-centering the Euro-centric bias of most existing institutional electronic catalogues and amplifying our understanding of Indigenous intellectual and material traditions.

Ruth Phillips conducted PhD fieldwork on West African women’s masquerades during the 1970s and earned her doctorate from SOAS, University of London. More recently, she has focused on indigenous artistic traditions from the Great Lakes region of North America, on the commodification and circulation of indigenous arts and on the post-colonial politics of museums and indigenous peoples. Her books include Representing Woman: Sande Society Masks of the Mende of Sierra Leone (1995), Trading Identities: Listen to Ruth Phillips’ Presentation on “Bringing Heritage Home”
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The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700–1900 (1998), and Unpacking Culture: Arts and Commodities in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds (1998), co-edited with Christopher B. Steiner. She served as director of the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology from 1997–2002 and, since 2003, has held appointments as Canada Research Chair in Modern Culture and Professor of Art History at Carleton. She teaches in the PhD program in Cultural Mediations and in the M.A. in Art and its Institutions. 

Reading List

Canadian Museums Association and Assembly of First Nations, Turning the Page: The Report of the Task Force on Museums and First People. Canadian Museums Association, 1992.

Kimberly Christen, “Gone Digital: Aboriginal Remix and the Cultural Commons,” International Journal of Cultural Property (2005) 12: 315-345.

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