Arctic Collections

arctic-maskMuseums Libraries and Archives Council of the UK Government. Their aim is to develop a new set of on-line tools to provide better access to the historical documentation of the important Arctic collections at two University of Cambridge museums, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum.

Dr. Robin Boast and Dr. Michael Bravo believe that the idea of online ‘access’ needs to be explored more creatively. Normally access is understood to mean viewing objects and their simple descriptions over the internet. The website at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is an excellent example. The project will make available, on-line, the integrated documentary, photographic and object collections from the Graham W. Rowley, Thomas T. Patterson, Thomas Henry Manning and Sir James Wordie collections at CUMAA, and the diverse north-eastern Canadian Arctic collections at SPRI.

However Boast and Bravo want to go one step further and enable expert communities who know most about the objects — like Inuit residents of the Arctic — to add information and develop historical narratives. Technically, the contribution of northern experts is limited only by the consent of those wanting to add data to the collection, and the ability of the institution to respond by building these networks: the range of northern voices contributing to the collections becomes theoretically limitless. By enabling diverse user communities to engage directly with collections, this project will broaden the information base, both its extent and expertise, directly in collaboration with individuals and communities.

Creating this kind of access requires what developers call ‘on-line social computing (Web 2.0) systems’. In effect this means making the process of access to the collections more meaningful to all users, not just those who like computers. Once they have developed some prototype software, Boast and Bravo hope to work with people in Nunavut in Northern Canada to trial a system for their museum collections. To achieve this, the museums will invite the user communities to decide what descriptions best suit the objects in the collections. In other words the radical solution proposed here is to vastly extend access and use to the communities themselves.

The Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (CUMAA) has long been developing on-line documentation systems and is a leader in collaboration with international stakeholder communities. The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) has been a centre of collaborative work with indigenous Arctic communities and international scientists. SPRI researchers have a strong track record of working collaboratively in Nunavut, and CUMAA holds extensive historical collections which are of great interest to the communities in Nunavut. It is a central goal of both museums to collaborate with stakeholder communities in symmetric relationships, and to develop systems that will record and reflect these collaborations.

1934 Wordie Arctic Expedition
As part of the Enabling Diversity project, this website follows the 1934 Wordie Expedition to Greenland and Baffin Island, Canada and features objects and photographs from the Museum’s collection. A comment section is available on most pages for visitors to contribute information relating to the content presented.

Dr. Robin Boast Dr. Michael Bravo
MAA Scott Polar Research Institute
University of Cambridge University of Cambridge
Downing Street, Cambridge, UK Lensfield, Cambridge, UK
rbb10@cam.ac.uk mb124@cus.cam.ac.uk
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