On January 19, 2012, twenty-eight participants convened at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC for the “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge” workshop, organized by the three of us – Kimberly Christen, Joshua Bell and Mark Turin.
The workshop began with a lively keynote by Jim Enote, Director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni, New Mexico. In a talk ranging from his grandmother’s world travels and humility to the need for tribal communities to own digital materials, Enote encouraged participants to think about the generative possibilities of digital return practices and their ethical entailments.
Enote’s talk set the tone for the two and a half days of discussion that brought together scholars from diverse fields of anthropology, indigenous communities, and collecting institutions to document best practices and case studies in digital repatriation. Over the course of the workshop, participants explored and shared experiences of digital return projects focused on linguistic revitalization of endangered languages, cultural revitalization of traditional practices, and the creation of new knowledge stemming from the return of digitized material culture from the Arctic to Arizona. Participants sought to understand the broad impact of such technological changes and cultural needs on individual communities as well as regional and international networks.
Moving forward from this stimulating workshop, participants are now collaborating on a special issue of Museum Anthropology Review, developing themes raised at the workshop, including access and accountability, intellectual property rights and intangible cultural heritage, digital technologies and community collaboration and the circulation and transformation of knowledge through new digital networks and multiple publics. The Digital Return website will be expanding to include both research network and community resource links to promote discussion and provide resources for communities, institutions and researchers.
Finally, participants will be exploring further grant opportunities to link cultural materials and digital tools with communities, particularly through the Recovering Voices initiative of the National Museum of Natural History, the Mukurtu indigenous archive tool, and the World Oral Literature Project based at Cambridge and Yale universities. Description of the Mukurtu initiative, and other ways anthropology is going digital, previously appeared on Neuroanthropology in Digital Anthropology: Projects and Platforms.
The “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge,” workshop brings together scholars from diverse anthropological fields, indigenous communities, and collecting institutions to document sets of best practices and case studies of digital repatriation in order to theorize the broad impacts of such processes in relation to: linguistic revitalization of endangered languages, cultural revitalization of traditional practices and the creation of new knowledge stemming from the return of digitized material culture. Theoretically, this workshop asks how and if marginalized communities can reinvigorate their local knowledge practices, languages, and cultural products through the reuse of digitally repatriated materials and distributed technologies. Invited participants all have expertise in both applied digital repatriation projects and the theoretical concerns that locate knowledge creation within both culturally specific dynamics and technological applications.