DCSIMG

Welcome to the Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project

By Chelsi Slotten with Emily Cain and Haley Bryant

Starting in 2015, we began a joint effort with the Anthropology Collections Management Unit to photograph and make digitally available the entire NMNH Arctic Ethnology collection which contains over 20,000 objects.  As you might imagine, this is a huge undertaking.  This initiative, called the Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project, has been highly successful.  In the past year and seven months, over 6,300 objects have been digitized.  We’re excited to announce a new element to that project.  Starting this month we will be highlighting some of the amazing objects in our collection, and the process it takes to digitize them, that anyone can now access online at: http://collections.nmnh.si.edu/search/anth/.

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Emily Cain photographs an embroidered Innu bag (E153521) in the Anthropology Processing Lab’s photo studio at MSC. The exterior of the bag is made of loon feathers, and was collected in Labrador in the late 19th century.

The women behind this project, Emily Cain and Haley Bryant, will be talking about their favorite objects, the importance of this kind of work, one way that ethnology collections like this get digitized, highlighting the voices of those communities for whom this project is so important, and sharing our collection with you.  To set the stage for this exciting new chapter in the Circumpolar Imaging Project I sat down with Emily and Haley to talk about their experience so far.

Q:  Obviously a lot of objects have been digitized so far, what are some of your favorites? 

EC: What a difficult question to answer, as I’m sure you can imagine. One of the things I love most about this project is the wide variety of objects I get to work with every day. The collection is very expansive, and the objects range in size from incredibly tiny, such as this carved ivory walrus, to fairly unwieldy, like this kayak. They also range in age from objects collected on 19th century expeditions (here’s a needlework neckband from the 1870s) to much more recent acquisitions from indigenous craftspeople (check out this basket with dyed seal gut woven by Lena Atti in the 1980s). The materials used across the Circumpolar region lend a broad array of textures as well, from rough, crepey fish skin to pillowy feathered bird breasts to smooth, glossy ivory. And in focusing on these sensory elements, I haven’t even mentioned the different geographic styles or delved into the histories of each of these objects. I would definitely encourage our readers to see if they can find a favorite of their own through the collections search online. It isn’t easy to choose.

HB: As a trained anthropologist, I’m definitely a history and information nerd so my favorite objects tend to be those that aren’t necessarily the most “visually impressive”, but those with the most interesting stories, uses, or histories of collection or possession. Unfortunately it’s the nature of museum collections in general that most of the objects we have in our collections have little contextual information about who made them, how they were used, what they’re made of, etc. This happens often because the information we have in our catalogue is the information that was provided by the person or persons who collected the object back in the late 1800’s (for example) and either no one was able to, or didn’t think to, collect more information about that object in the time since. Occasionally you can come across an object with much richer information either on a tag attached to the object, or in the information given by the original collector or donor. Of course, objects themselves tell their own stories: tears and breakages tell of use and repair, colors give information about specific dyes used, embellishments belie the importance or context of use for certain objects, and simple things like size, shape, and material speak volumes about an object’s purpose and indigenous value. For instance, Emily photographed this small piece of pottery recently (catalog number E361935). At first glance it looks like a simple, small black bowl. However, an historical tag included with the pottery indicates that this is the “Rarest Pottery in the world from Eskimo of Nelson Island, Alaska. Made of fish eggs, seal blood, burnt hair, graphite, pumice stone, ptarmigan feathers. $10.09 (?)”. This appears to be the back of the tag, which was actually manufactured by the ACME tag company in Minneapolis and associates this object in some way with the “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, the Most Unique Shop in the World”, proprietor: J.E. Standley, Seattle, WA. While we still cannot take any of that information as fact of origin or of material make-up of the pot without more investigating, it does raise a lot of interesting questions and would point us in some interesting directions if we wanted to research Alaskan pottery more deeply.

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: Haley Bryant works with tupilak figures (E432429) in Pod 1 at MSC. Tupilaks like the ones in NMNH’s collection were made in Greenland in the 1960s for the tourist market, but are inspired by earlier shamanic objects.

Q: This is large, multi-year project, why is investing in this type of work important?

HB: This project has a number of stakeholders, who are invested for very different reasons. Digitizing collections is important for the institution because it allows the public to interface more readily with the museum’s collections, and to engage on another level besides just physically coming to the museum and seeing objects on exhibit. It also allows us to demonstrate the diversity and vastness of our ethnological holdings which can be a draw for funders and researchers. For researchers and academics, having our collections digitized allows them to take their projects to another level—our images are publication-grade and can be used on their own for investigations of materials, production techniques, culture and history, etc. They are also a way for researchers to investigate what we have, and to plan a visit to our collections to do some in-person research. Finally, and what I personally feel is most important, our images provide a link between our collections and the indigenous communities from which many of our circumpolar ethnology collections originate or were collected. Our images are referenced for repatriation visits, when individuals or groups want to learn more about traditional modes of production and life-ways, and any number of community-lead initiatives or collaborations such as the Inuvialuit Living History Project.

Q: How does the digitization process actually work?

EC: Put simply, the process involves moving objects from their storage location to our photo studio, taking photographs from a variety of angles and highlighting important details, then returning the objects to storage and adding the photos to the collections database. Of course, when you’re working with over 20,000 objects of vastly different sizes, shapes, weights, and materials, it’s not a simple process at all. The absolute most important aspect of a digitization project of this scale is ensuring that the objects are properly cared for throughout these steps. So we move through this collection one geographic/cultural group at a time. I’ll begin a new group by conducting a survey: physically going into the storage space and evaluating each object based on size and type of photo setup needed. Our storage facility is truly massive, and objects are often spread out across it. For this reason, we use a series of spreadsheets to track movement of objects and keep all the necessary information in one place. Working from this spreadsheet, I can then begin moving objects from their storage locations into the photo studio and doing the photography part. I sit with each object and note details that will be of interest to researchers. Areas that are broken or wearing thin, for example, can actually be very valuable, as they often give a view of the layers of an object and insight as to how it was made. I use my camera to document the object as well as I can, and then I prepare them to return to their storage location. For cumbersome objects, I often have to enlist the help of volunteers or interns in moving them. Once I’ve processed the photos, I share them with Haley, who handles the data management for the project. She adds metadata to the images and imports them into the collections management database program used by the staff here. These imports are automatically backed up to the collections search on the web site, where the public can view the images any time they like.

Q: What is the most interesting or unexpected thing you have learned about this collection?

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This knife handle (E37960) was collected by Edward Nelson in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta in southwestern Alaska. It has since lost its blade, but is carved in the image of a polar bear with a walrus in its mouth.

EC: Often these collections tell us much more about the collectors than they do the source communities. I came to this project with a background in anthropology and collections management, but no particular knowledge of the Circumpolar region at all. While I have learned a great deal about arctic and subarctic cultural groups, their material culture, and regional flora and fauna, I’ve come to understand even more about the history of science in these regions, including the movement of major expeditions through these areas and the lens through which they viewed local people and created value systems for the objects being collected.

HB: In working with this collection I have come to a better understanding of circumpolar geography and cultural groups and how colonialism, economics, politics, climate change, and technological innovation have shaped those things. You can learn a great deal about a region or cultural group when looking at the objects produced and used there, and how they changed over time. We hope to give readers a small taste of that through our posts and featured objects!

Q: Any final thoughts?

HB: We are really hoping to create a dialogue by making the work we are doing more open and transparent. We will be featuring the voices of some of our stakeholders—including academic researchers, indigenous community members, curators, collections staff, and more. We are hoping that people become excited and intrigued by the images and information we post and reach out to us or the other featured authors about their thoughts or work. Doing this digitization is only part of achieving our goal—the bulk of it comes when our images get out into the world and people engage with them!

EC: While I really enjoy working closely with these objects every day, the entire point is for them to be viewed, enjoyed, and used by the diverse public we’re serving. I’m so glad we’re at a place in this project where we can begin to cultivate a relationship with our audience and learn more about what these images mean to them.

We’re super excited to be working with Haley and Emily to share our wonderful collection with you!  To keep up to date on newly digitized objects, the importance of this collection to both indigenous group and researchers, and a behind the scenes look at what this type of project looks like follow along on our blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages.


2016- A Year in Review

By: Chelsi Slotten

    It’s been quite a year here at the Arctic Studies Center.  We started off with a workshop on animal crashes in the Arctic in early January and have kept busy ever since.  Scholars from across the US, Canada, and Europe joined us to look at how human-climate-animal interaction has impacted animal populations in the Arctic.  We were very fortunate to hear from Enookie and Charlie Inuarak, two hunters from the Canadian Arctic community of Pond Inlet.  They spoke eloquently on the how the Inuit relate to animals and the importance of understanding and preserving this bond.  Prior to the workshop, we hosted the Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture.  Dr. Morten Meldgaard, past director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, spoke on the close relationships between animal crashes and human economies with an eye towards how humans have impacted animal populations, which then impact human populations, over time. 

                                                        

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Enookie and Charlie Inuarak. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten.

              Our year continued with work on the upcoming exhibit Narwhal: Revealing an Artic Legend, which will open later this year, and collaborating on the Folklife Festival.  This year’s festival focused on the Basque population.  Dr. Fitzhugh has found evidence of Inuit-Basque interaction in Northern Canada during the 17th century, including evidence of potential cooperation between the two populations.  Several events during the 2 week festival focused on the archaeological evidence for the Basque’s in Canada.  The Festival was a huge success, and we greatly enjoyed being part of it and working with Basque artists and ship-builders.

              Following the festival, Dr. Fitzhugh made his annual research trip to Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, where he and a group of researchers conducted archaeological survey work and continued excavating the Hart Chalet Inuit site.  This seven week trip was punctuated by presentations at local museums and meetings with indigenous groups to discuss our findings and learn what information the locals were interested in exploring further.  These meetings were highly informative for all, and highlight the importance of working with local communities when undertaking archaeological work.

                                                        

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Rigolet Community Meeting. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten

              Upon our return to Washington DC, we hosted a reception for the White House Arctic Science Ministerial.  Dr. Krupnik was key in working with the Arctic Science Ministerial to organize this event, which was attended by representatives of all eight Arctic Nations and members of the Arctic Council.  We debuted a series of new banners that highlight the history of Arctic scholarship at the Smithsonian.   Our international collaboration continued with the Fulbright Arctic Scholars Week Open House on October 25th.  This program hosted 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from all around the world and several Arctic Youth Ambassadors.  A breadth of experiences, ages, and academic disciplines came together to highlight the importance of Arctic research today and moving forward. The program’s highlight was the scholars’ presentation of their research work to the visiting public in the Ocean Hall.

                                                                                 

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Dr. Noor Johnson presenting at the Arctic Fulbright Open House. Photograph by Schuyler Litten.

              We rounded out the year with a workshop on the importance of increasing accessibility and awareness of Arctic archival collections arranged with the Jefferson Institute and Library of Congress.  This was, once again, an international affair with scholars from the US, Canada and Europe participating.  The breadth of information available of the Arctic is really astounding and digitization efforts have and will continue to make this information more available.

              This year has been filled with collaborations, meeting new colleagues and progress towards understanding this wonderful area we have chosen to research.  We are, as always, excited to continue to learn and ready to face whatever the New Year brings.  Wishing you all the best from all of us here.  Happy New Years!


Fulbright Arctic Week: Our Open House

By: Schuyler Litten and Chelsi Slotten

Last Tuesday, October 25th, we had the pleasure of hosting the Artic Fulbright open house in the Ocean Hall of the National Museum of Natural History.  We welcomed 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Norway, Sweden and the US.  Their research was complimented by the Arctic Youth Ambassadors who joined us to discuss their experience of life in the Arctic. Representatives from Alaska Geographic, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dartmouth College, University of Alaska Fairbank, the U.S. Department of State, the National Geographic Society and the Institute of International Education were also present.

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Arctic Youth Ambassadors in the Ocean Hall. NHB2016-02527, Photograph by James Di Loreto, Smithsonian.

The program engaged visitors of all ages with current research on the impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems and communities.  Over the course of 3 hours the public interacted directly with experts at 24 stations around the Sant Ocean Hall. Dr. Noor Johnson highlighted the need for more community-led research and involvement with offshore development in Canada, while Dr. Maria Tysiachniouk discussed how to balance the interests of oil companies and indigenous populations in the Arctic. Dr. Øystein Varpe talked about his research observing the relationship between Arctic sea ice and its effect on ecological systems. A few examples are the changes in growth rates among different species and shifts in hunting abilities or patterns due to increased light from receding ice. Itty Neuhaus, the only Fulbright artist, explained the development of her instillation. It reflects on the nature of icebergs and their real representation of climate change along their symbolic representation of changes within ourselves. Her 3D printed models of icebergs were created to match their density and behavior in water. Dr. Tamara Harms discussed her research on Arctic freshwater ecosystems and the effects climate change has on areas with significant permafrost melt. Bill Fitzhugh the Director of Arctic Studies and Stephen Loring an Arctic archaeologist had artifacts from our own collections available for the public to interact with. They were used as teaching aids and examples of arctic culture and art.

 

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Dr. Stephen Loring explaining traditional dress as seen on a doll. NHB2016-02556, Photograph by James Di Loreto, Smithsonian.

The importance of involving locals and arctic youth in this conversation was showcased by the presentation of several Arctic Youth Ambassadors who talked about a wide array of subjects relating to their lives in the arctic. One of the Youth Ambassadors, Willie Drake, presented on traditional Yup’ik housing. He discussed the traditional building materials along with functional and cultural uses in relation to their modern counterparts. Jannelle Trowbridge discussed her experience mushing (dog sled pulling) in Alaska with her family.

 

This open house contributed to the public understanding of the Arctic and stressed the need for continued research in the Arctic. The participation of so many scholars, professionals, and locals highlights the interconnected nature of the Arctic nations, both to one another and the broader world.  Many thanks to all those who participated, both as experts or visitors, and to the Fulbright Arctic Initiative for providing their generous funding of Arctic scholarship.


Carrie M. McLain Memorial Musuem: Journey of an Arctic Collection

By Amy Phillips-Chan, Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.  Originally Published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 23. 55-57

For almost 50 years the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum has perched a few yards from the icy coast of Norton Sound on historic Front Street in Nome, Alaska. In 1967 the Nome Museum, among other museums, including the Cordova Historical Museum, Pioneer Museum (Fairbanks), and Alaska State Museum (Juneau), sprung up across the state to celebrate the centennial purchase of Alaska from Russia. The centennial museums represented a concerted statewide effort to gather and preserve Alaska history and culture while at the same time they announced the importance of Alaska collections and researchers to the professional field.

In Nome, local historian Carrie M. McLain had embarked on a lifelong pursuit of collecting and sharing oral histories, photographs, and artifacts since her arrival on the fringe of the gold rush in 1905. McLain’s founding collection of ivory artwork and historical photographs set a precedent for donors with personal connections to Nome and the surrounding region looking to return their treasures and memories. The museum collection greatly expanded over the past five decades and now comprises 15,000 objects, 12,000 photographic prints and negatives, and over 100 linear feet of historical records.

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Tools, ivory carvings, a pair of model boots, and a baleen basket from the Lopp Collection donated by great-grandson Stuart Dick in May 2015. CMMM, Acc. 2015.4.abøgarður, Faroe Islands.

The museum’s greatest collection strength is Alaska Native material culture from the late 19th century, followed by items related to gold mining, the ivory curio market, ancient ivory carvings, and dog sledding. The collection also comprises a fair number of business and household articles from early 1900s Nome as well as cultural artifacts and faunal remains from the Snake River Sandspit site. The overall collection affords unique insight into the socio-cultural and economic shifts occurring within Bering Strait communities at the turn of the 20th century.

The Lopp Collection of bone and ivory implements, stone tools, models, and ivory curios represents one of the museum’s distinct assemblages portraying transculturation. William Thomas “Tom” Loppand Ellen Louise Kittredge Loppserved as missionaries, teachers, and reindeer superintendents in Wales between 1892-1902. The Lopps participated in subsistence activities, took photographs, and printed a newsletter, The Eskimo Bulletin, which chronicled daily life within an Iñupiaq village. The growing presence of gold miners in the area and ensuing changes to the local economy are captured in Kathleen Lopp-Smith’s, Ice Window: Letters from a Bering Strait Village, 1892-1902 (2002).

By the time of the Lopp’s departure from Wales in 1902, the town of Nome had swelled to almost 20,000  people, Western goods were prevalent, and the ivory curio market was in full swing. The Shields Collection provides an example of positive cross-cultural relations with Iñupiaq families in transition and a variety of items produced for the tourist trade in Nome. From 1910-1918, Walter C. Shields served as Superintendent of Schools

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Ivory artwork from the Shields Collection donated by grandson Philip Shields in April 2015. The reindeer and figure stand on top of the tusk inscribed, “To Walter C. Shields, Superintendent 1916. Nome, Alaska. From, Wales Delegates.” CMMM, Acc. 2015.2

of the Northwest District of Alaska. Shields oversaw the establishment of new schools and advocated for the promulgation of reindeer herding as a means to increase Iñupiaq wealth and standing. During his treks to northern communities by reindeer sled, Shields took photographs, acquired objects, and framed his view on Iñupiaq history as a book of poems titled The Ancient Ground (1918).

In February 2015 I came onboard as Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum as it stood on the cusp of its own significant transformation with construction of a new building, new exhibits, and its first dedicated collections storage area. Like many small museums, lapse in staff and lack of training over the years had resulted in a disorganized and poorly documented collection. The use of multiple numbering systems, a lack of accession records, and dearth of deed of gifts, presented an impressive challenge. Indeterminate portions of the collection were also stored in seven different locations across town adding another layer of organizational complexity.

In spring 2015 the museum undertook its first comprehensive inventory in fifty years. For those who have processed collections, one is intimately familiar with the meticulous task of searching for documentation, identifying, attributing, and cataloguing. Opening unmarked boxes and exploring collection hideaways also carries a heady sense of excitement and discovery. One remarkable object found folded in storage is a tanned and dyed sealskin wall hanging featuring alternating light and dark squares of intricate geometric appliqué typically found on 19th century Chukchi clothing from Eastern Siberia.

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Sealskin skin wall hanging featuring alternating light and dark squares of geometric designs. CMMM, Cat. 1979.1.52.

For our museum, the comprehensive inventory served a manifold purpose. First, the extensive processing activity helped us establish right of ownership while gaining critical insight into the scope and strengths of our collection. Knowledge about the range and dimensions of objects was also instrumental in planning the layout of cabinets and shelves in our new collections storage area. Next, after objects were catalogued and photographed they moved down the line to where they were wrapped and boxed for the move to the new museum. Finally, hands-on analyses of the collection afforded an opportunity to visualize new exhibit themes and identify key objects for storylines.

The museum collection will embark on its next journey during summer 2016 as it moves approximately one mile north to our new facility. Rehousing the collection in mobile storage will greatly increase the accessibility of the collection and expand its potential value for research, public programs, exhibits, and community projects. Following the move, the museum will be rolling out a “Community Historian” program as an integral part of exhibit development for the main gallery. The program invites community members with localized knowledge to partner with museum staff and draft exhibit content utilizing materials within the collection.

The Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum contains a rich assemblage of artifacts, photographs, and papers that reveal the vibrant history of Nome and the Bering Strait, from marine mammal hunting equipment and ivory artwork, to gold mining and the origins of long distance dog sled racing. Through many personal donations and accounts, the collection offer critical insight into the shared history of Western and Bering Strait Native peoples that continues to enrich the cultural fabric of Nome.


Arctic Ethnology Imaging Project

By Emily Cain and David Rosenthal.  Originally published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 23. 40-41

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Emily Cain (left) and Brittany Hance (right) in the Department of Anthropology's Imaging Lab at the Museum Support Center.

The summer of 2015 saw the beginning of the Department of Anthropology’s Collections Management Unit’s Arctic Ethnology Imaging Project. The goal of this project is to photograph and make available online the entire NMNH Arctic Ethnology collection of over 20.000 objects.

Funding for the first project year (2015/2016) came from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF) created in 2006 as an institution-wide pool to accomplish a wide variety of collections-related projects. The CCPF has funded 181 projects since its inception, totaling over $19 million awarded. Jake Homiak, former Anthropology Collections and Archives Program Director, and David Rosenthal, Anthropology Collections Manager, worked on the first grant proposal in summer 2014 together with the support of Igor Krupnik, Arctic Ethnology Curator.

Receiving the funding has allowed us to hire Brittany Hance and Emily Cainto see this project through. Brittany is a professional photographer and former intern with NMNH Photo Services. Emily, with a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from GWU (2015) has worked as a SIMA (Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology) intern and contractor. Brittany and Emily primarily work out of the Anthropology Collection Lab’s photo studio at the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, Maryland. It is equipped with an in-studio Mac Pro shooting computer, a Canon T6s camera with 24-70 EF lens, and Capture One 8.3 software, allowing for a streamlined process and high-quality product. Objects are tracked electronically, using a digital bar-code reader and color-coded system that records at exactly which step in the process each individual object is. Using these and other tools, they’ve modified the imaging workflow so that images are added to the online database almost as fast as they are taken while also minimizing human error.

Each object from the collection, ranging from Edward Nelson’s 1879 ti-sikh-puk dance mask from Western Alaska to Greenlandic souvenir tupilak figures of the 1960s, are carefully and thoroughly photographed, providing a highly detailed and readily accessible visual record to go along with existing catalog records.

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Miniature walrus carving collected on St. Lawrence Island by Vaughn Rockney, 1943. E416900, Photograph by Brittany Hance

Challenges

The wide variety of materials within the Arctic collections presents certain logistical challenges; namely, the execution of an efficient system despite the breadth of shapes, sizes, and compositions of objects. In order to navigate this issue, the photo studio has been redesigned with fully modular and mobile shooting and staging areas, allowing for maximum flexibility to suit the needs of individual objects. Additionally, a series of specialized, supplemental photoshoots are planned for objects that fall outside of the capabilities of our main studio.

In collaboration with NMNH Photo Services, two weekend photo shoots have been completed to date in order to accommodate oversized objects such as large parkas and blankets. These objects’ size and, often, age require a much larger staging space and many careful hands. These photo shoots, conducted with the gantry system in the street at MSC, involve experienced volunteers to help facilitate the handling of very large objects, as well as the presence of two photographers for a combination of overall and detail shots with maximum efficiency. In order to manage extra-long objects such as spears and paddles, a new shooting process involving linear motion positioning is in the works for the coming summer.

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Small wooden mask collected in western Alaska by Henry Collins in 1927. E340246, Photograph by Brittany Hance.

To date, we have photographed more than 2,800 objects and produced over 14,000 images. The majority of objects that belong to St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Nunivak Island Yup’ik/Čupik cultural groups have been photographed and inserted into the database, as well as the collections of Lucien M. Turner and Charles Francis Hall for Labrador and Arctic Canada/Greenland, respectively. The collections database is being updated with the outcomes of the project on a regular basis, with hundreds of new images being made available to both internal users and the general public each week.

We are currently waiting for the Smithsonian to announce the 2016 recipients of the CCPF awards and have high hopes to be funded for year 2 of this project. It will include the imaging of the Kotzebue Sound, Northwest Alaska, and of our smaller Siberia collections. Overall the project is expected to take four years to complete. In that time, Brittany and Emily plan to continue improving their process and to document it for future implementation across other in-house Anthropology digitization projects.


Material Traditions: Sewing Gut

Gutsewing

 

CLICK HERE for a preview of Material Traditions: Sewing Gut – a set of educational videos from the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center artists' residency at the Anchorage Museum and community workshop at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel. Featuring artists Mary Tunuchuk (Yup'ik), Elaine Kingeekuk (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan), the videos include interviews, how to process seal intestine, preparing thread and grass, sewing gut strips and more.

To see the complete set, CLICK HERE or search online for "Sharing Knowledge Alaska Sewing Gut." Use Google Chrome for best viewing. A limited number of DVD copies and full resolution HD files are available by request.

Photo: Mekoryuk, 1964. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum.


Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.


Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People- A Retrospective

 

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ainu means “human”- Ainu means “us”. These powerful words are the beginning of a journey to understand the indigenous population of northern Japan-the Ainu. In the exhibit Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, we meet a 10,000-year-old culture. Through select objects and artworks the themes of spirituality, trade, cultural identity, contemporary vitality, and fine art are explored. The effects of environmental, historical, and social forces on this culture are also considered.   Video commentary by curator’s Dr. Chisato Dubreuil and Dr. William Fitzhugh can be found throughout the online exhibit. Fifteen years after the closing of this exhibit I sat down with Dr. Fitzhugh to ask him some questions about his recollection of the exhibit.Ainu168

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?

A: Meeting contemporary Ainu and coming to appreciate their culture, their art, ceremony, and oral history was truly exciting. But my biggest thrill was watching visitors in the exhibit hall—they were blown away by the beauty of Ainu objects and philosophy of life.

Q: Did you learn anything particularly unexpected or interesting while you were preparing this exhibit?

A: I could not avoid “becoming Ainu”! As a curator I immersed myself in the Ainu world, physically and emotionally. Chisato and I spent hours visiting her people and studying the Smithsonian 19th century collection of Ainu photographs and ethnographic objects. I began to see through Ainu eyes!    

Q: Have any major Ainu finds occurred in the last 15 years that help shed new light on historical Ainu culture?

A: After 150 years Ainu and their culture and language are finally being recognized by the Japanese people and government. There will be a national museum of the Ainu and more support for Ainu art and language. But still no land-claims or financial reparations. The Ainu and Japanese still have many issues to resolve.

Q: Is there anything else you particularly want to share about this exhibit?

A: Ainu honored the spirits they believed inhabit all living things and objects--even trees and rocks had souls. Today Ainu continue to honor the spirits of nature and practice rituals and ‘sending ceremonies’ that maintain the balance of nature. We have much to learn from Ainu culture.

For those of you whose curiosity has been peaked (I know mine was!) the interactive online exhibition can be found here http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/ainu/index.html.


Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found

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What would you do if you found a woven spruce hat in a retreating glacier?  For master weaver Delores Churchill, it was a chance to connect the past to her present. The National Museum of Natural History will host a screening of “Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found” on October 28th.   Please join us as we accompany her on a journey into the past to discover the origins of this unique artifact and what it means to the Haida culture. 

Delores Churchill is a Haida elder from Ketchikan, Alaska who has devoted much of her life to mastering the craft of weaving and preserving her cultural heritage.   As a child, she was forced to leave home and attend a residential school.  While there, she was not allowed to speak her native language or adhere to her tribe’s cultural practices.  Despite this, Delores remembered her language and tradition and is a strong proponent of keeping traditional language and culture alive.  She learned to weave from her mother Selina Peratrovich, a respected weaver in her own right, who taught Delores everything she knew.  Haida weaving uses cedar bark and spruce roots to create tightly woven baskets and hats.  The weaving is so tight as to be waterproof.   Traditionally only females were allowed to weave in Haida culture but males are now learning the craft as well.   Delores is certain that passing the knowledge down through classes and traditional channels will help keep the Haida weaving tradition alive and ensure that Native art is viewed as part of the modern world, not just as museum artifacts.

This program on October 28th is free and open to the public. The film screening begins at 6:15 in  Q?rius Theater at the National Museum of Natural History. After the screening, there will be a discussion session with Delores Churchill and producer/director Ellen Frankenstein where we welcome your questions, as well as a weaving demonstration. Earlier in the day, Delores will demonstrate her weaving in NMNH’s Q?rius Education Center.

Please RSVP for this event here


Arctic Spring Festival Success!

By: Bill Fitzhugh. Originally published in the ASC Newsletter, No 22. 62-63.

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Official poster for the Arctic Spring Festival.


More than 50,000 people were in the museum during the Arctic Spring Festival and over 5,000 people interacted directly with experts at stations in the Sant Ocean Hall and the Evans Gallery, while an additional 1,900 visited the Q?rius Education Center to play games, learn crafts, explore objects, jam on video games, and watch films related to Arctic science and culture. Just as one example, Martin Nweeia’s narwhal station in the Sant Ocean Hall logged 1,262 visitors in four hours!

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Martin Nweeia attracts a crowd with his replica narwhal tusk! Photo: James DiLoreto, Smithsonian Institution.


The festival also featured performances in the Rotunda and Q?rius Loft by a youth group from the Uummannaq Children's Home in Uummannaq, Greenland, and a contemporary music and dance performance by Jody Sperling’s NYC-based dance team on the theme of melting Arctic ice.

Jody Sperling's group performs Ice Cycle.
Choreographer Jody Sperling, her company Time Lapse Dance, and composer Matthew Burtner present Ice Cycle for the evening dance performance on Saturday, May 9. Photo: Trish Mace.


Visitors and experts, young and old, local DC residents, and travelers from afar all had great conversations with Arctic experts and unique educational experiences throughout the Museum.

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Igah Hainnu instructs Noor Johnson on traditional caribou carving. Ms. Hainnu is an artist from Clyde River, Canada, who was sponsored by the Embassy of Canada to come down for the Festival and share her knowledge and art with our visitors. Photo: James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Institution.

 

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Bill Fitzhugh, Director of the Arctic Studies Center, addresses a question at the panel. Left to right: Mead Treadwell, Craig Fleener, Stephanie Pfirman, Bill Fitzhugh. Photo: Brittany M. Hance, Smithsonian Institution.

The program began with a Friday afternoon panel discussion with eight Arctic experts from the Smithsonian (Krupnik and Fitzhugh), Arctic Research Commission (John Farrell), DOS (Nikoosh Carlo), Canadian Museum of Nature (Margaret Beckel), Stephanie Pfirman (Barnard college), Craig Fleener (Alaska Governor’s office), and Mead Treadwell (former ARC chief and Lt. Gov. of Alaska). The panel was opened with Sounds of the Arctic by Charles Morrow and CAFF award winning photos and other Arctic photos from government agencies, set to sound by Meghan Mulkerin. Arctic films were shown on Friday at the panel and all day on Sunday, by the Greenland Eyes International Film Festival. In addition, the Uummannaq Greenland Youth Ensemble delighted the audience with a short performance at the panel. A reception was hosted Friday night by the Danish/ Greenland Embassy. Friday afternoon and Saturday were devoted to the public education events noted above, presented by NMNH, NOAA, NPS, DOS, DOI, USFWS, BLM, CAFF, BOEM, NSSI, NAS, NSF, NASA, ONR, National Ice Center, Tromso Museum, the Arctic Council, the Canadian Embassy, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, and the Danish Embassy with Visit Greenland.

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Pablo Clemente-Colón, Chief Scientist from the U.S. National Ice Center interacts with a visitor in the Sant Ocean Hall.


More than 150 people from over 20 partner organizations and agencies participated and provided materials and specimens, literature, website programs, Arctic ice maps, temperature curves, and nature photography for the festival – among the more unique items were a musk ox (with head) and polar bear pelts; a demonstration on how to make boots from king salmon skins; a narwhal tusk; Greenland ethnographic objects; and an ingenious melting ‘glacier goo’ game led by the PoLAR Partnership. The Uummannaq Greenland Youth Ensemble performed numerous times in different places of the Natural History Museum.

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The Uummannaq Children's Home Youth Ensemble performs in the Rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History during the Arctic Spring Festival, May 9, 2015. Photo: James Di Loreto.


The festival made a major contribution to public understanding of the Arctic and was a fitting way to introduce the new US Arctic Council Chairmanship period and its theme of public outreach and education. The Arctic Spring Festival would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship our our donors and the herculean contributions of Meghan Mulkerin, our new Program Coordinator in the Arctic Studies Center, and our colleagues in the Office of Education and Outreach, Barbara Stauffer, Margery Gordon, Jen Collins, Trish Mace, Colleen Popson, Naimah Muhammad, Courtney Gerstenmaier and Megan Chen. Igor Krupnik, Stephen Loring, and Bill Fitzhugh were also instrumental to the process of gathering partners and entertainers together for this wonderful program.

Joel Issak, Meghan Mulkerin, Rebecca Clemens, and Barbara Stauffer at the fish skin sewing activity.
Joel Issak shows Meghan Mulkerin, Rebecca Clemens, and Barbara Stauffer the finer points of fish skin sewing. Photo: Robert Radu.


The Arctic Spring Festival was generously funded by: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Arctic Studies Center, Living in the Anthropocene Initiative, and Recovering Voices, with additional support from The U.S. Arctic Research Commission, The PoLAR Partnership (supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation: DUE–1239783), Oak Foundation, The Ed Nef Foundation, Embassy of Canada, Royal Norwegian Embassy, and Embassy of Denmark.