Historical Research and Resources in the Digital Age: Libraries and
Sharing Cultural Resources: Online Multicultural Partnerships
M. Sam Cronk and Kari R. Smith
At the University of Michigan's School of Information, we are developing
collaborative, multicultural on-line projects that use the Internet and
digital media as platforms for information exchange and distance
education. We will introduce to you two distinct yet complementary
projects: CHICO, the Cultural Heritage Initiative for Community Outreach,
and CHPI, the Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute, addressing basic
issues of access, sustainability, and model building that shape current
discourse in distance education. Talking first about the CHPI, I will
focus on a specific initiative to document and record Navajo cultural
heritage with the end result of more on-line resources available for K-12
and scholarly research.
The first Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute, a one-week
invitational summer institute for middle-school teachers and students, was
held at the Navajo Nation, June 21-26, 1998 at Diné College, in Tsaile,
Arizona . The project director is Professor Maurita Holland and I am the
project manager. During the week twenty-two participants from Kayenta,
Tuba City, Rocky Ridge, Chinle, Arizona and Crownpoint, New Mexico learned
to use information technology to document and record cultural heritage.
In particular, they learned how to use the Internet and other technology
tools to share their heritage with others using the World Wide Web. Each
school group of participants created an educational module (project) based
on an aspect of Diné culture using the information and skills they learned
during the institute.
The Institute grew out of a conversation among Prof. Maurita Holland,
middle school teacher Linda Austgen, and myself in late December 1997.
Discussion centered around how the School of Information, already having
three years of experiences at the Navajo Nation, could work in
collaboration with K-12 schools and the tribal college to use information
technology to enhance cultural education in the classroom. We developed a
plan for a Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute and articulated three
We envisioned using information technology to produce webpages created by
the students and teachers of Navajo middle schools; the content would be
chosen by the participants and limited to Diné culture. In order to
stimulate project ideas, we wanted to have demonstrations, lectures and
artifacts available to the participants to use as models, information and
as a basis for the content of their projects. School of Information
graduate students would provide the necessary technology training for the
participants to create their products. At the completion of the
institute, the participants would have created initial, but stand-alone,
educational modules for classroom use. Additionally, the products created
during the institute would serve as a starting point for future work in
enhancing and adding to the projects.
- Develop collaboration among K-12 schools, cultural institutions (e.g.,
Ned A. Hatathli museum and Diné College), community members, and the
School of Information with a theme of cultural heritage preservation and
- Bring teachers and students to a learning environment to work together
and use information technology as the vehicle for developing their
collaboration, creating educational materials about Diné culture in Navajo
voice, especially kid's voices,
- Work with students to 1) raise students awareness of the role of
museums in preserving cultural heritage, 2) to encourage students'
effective participation in the information society, 3) to stimulate
interest in information technology as a career, and 4) to encourage the
use of the World Wide Web as a shared community space, and 5) raise
awareness of the Tribal colleges and encourage pursuit of higher education
to K-12 students.
Drawing on the relationship the School of Information had built at
Diné College, we contacted the Ned A. Hatathli museum, testing the model
with museum director, Harry Walters, and the museum's curator, Edsel
Brown. We invited their input and participation as Diné cultural heritage
educators and hosts for the Institution. In March 1998, I traveled to
Diné College to work with Walters and Brown on the plans for the
institute. At the end of this planning session the cultural components of
the institute were in place, and Diné College agreed to host the event to
take place for one week in June 1998.
The School of Information acted as institute organizer, technology
trainer and facilitator. During the Spring term, SI graduate students
created technology instructional materials, led discussions about how the
projects could fit into classroom teaching, and worked one-on-one with the
participants in the creation of their web projects. Challenges for the
School of Information included:
- ~~incorporating information technologies into educational modules for
in the classroom,
- bridging the perceived gap between traditional culture and modern
technological life (use of information technology to teach about Diné
- creating and producing an institute of high cultural integrity and
significance for all participants.
Middle-school teachers from the Navajo Nation were invited to apply to the
Institute. One criterion was that the schools must have Internet
connectivity with classroom connectivity for teaching using the Internet;
this was the only way we could ensure continuation of the projects and
immediate usability of the skills learned during the institute. Six
teachers and fifteen students from five schools participated in the
week-long Institute. In addition to Prof. Holland and myself, instructors
included six graduate students from the School of Information and School
of Education at the University of Michigan, and the director Harry Walters
and the curator Edsel Brown of the Ned A. Hatathli Museum at Diné College.
During the institute, both the teachers and students received instruction
on Internet basics that included browsing, searching and critical
evaluation of web sites. They also learned how to make basic web pages
and how to use a digital camera. On the first day the participants were
given guided tours of the Hatathli Museum and subsequently used Museum
exhibits as reference for some of the projects. Throughout the week they
were able to experience and learn about Diné cultural heritage. This was
done through demonstrations and lectures by Diné artisans from the Tsaile,
Arizona area (woodcarving, pottery, basketry, and silver smithing). A
guided tour of Canyon de Chelly gave them a chance to learn about the
historical and cultural significance of the canyon and experience its
natural beauty. During the final two days of the institute, all of the
participants designed and created web-based projects available on the
Internet, hosted at the School of Information. These projects are the
basis for on-going education and curriculum development of cultural
heritage education and community heritage documentation. On the last day
of the Institute each participant took part in a very successful public
presentation of their projects.
The institute was a success as demonstrated by both the projects
the participants created about Diné cultural heritage and evaluations by
the participants. Having professionals from the fields of education,
information, and cultural studies involved in the planning process ensured
the success enjoyed during the institute. Additionally, having high
quality equipment and individualized technology training were important
for the participants. The field trip and live demonstrations and lectures
about Diné arts and crafts provided significant learning experiences for
the participants, which they then incorporated into their projects and
The evaluations showed that the teachers rated overall instruction by the
Michigan team at 5 and overall satisfaction with institute at 4.8.
Students rated their confidence in using the digital camera at 4.6,
webpage creation at 4.2, and project development at 4.4. Teachers
specified "spending time with my students" and "getting to know
knowledgeable people" among the things they enjoyed about the institute.
When asked what additional topics they would like to see addressed,
teachers said that they would like to learn what Navajo elders feel would
be inappropriate to put on a web page . One of the students wrote, "I
think that we should teach other Native Americans about the Web and all
because it is very important to our future."
By the end of the week, Professor Holland and I had observed several
results that we did not anticipate when we planned the institute. One was
the degree to which the attendees felt an increased cultural awareness.
The teachers commented that they had learned a good deal about Diné
culture; almost all of them expressed unrealized estrangement and credited
the institute for having restored or increased their cultural focus.
Their students felt the institute was an interesting and important
experience also, especially because they learned a method of preserving
the cultural heritage that they are afraid is being lost. Both the
teachers and students were excited about having more Diné created Navajo
cultural resources available on the Internet for use. While the Institute
ended with high enthusiasm and many plans for the coming school year by
the teachers, the real success can only be measured as projects develop.
We have encouraged the teachers and students to share what they learned at
the Institute with their community, their schools and professional
The work that we did in offering the first Institute has helped us to
develop a model for future extensions and collaborations. This model is
based on partnerships with the 30 tribal colleges, museums and cultural
institutions and K-12 teachers and schools. There is enormous benefit to
each of these organizations when working together. For the tribal college
it becomes a recruitment device, promotes the technology program and
strengthening the teacher education program. The cultural institutions
benefit from an extended audience that learns of its collections and
through information technology benefits by extending its walls to the Web.
K-12 teachers and students work together to shape new curriculum and a
deeper understanding of their heritage while giving voice to their culture
via the Web. The School of Information provides a rich experience in
training its students and attracts the enrollment of Native American
students while carrying out research and building sustainable technology
Overall, the Institute serves to empower organizations and individuals;
stimulates another venue for cultural heritage sharing and preservation;
provides a foundation for distance independent learning, and strengthens
and promotes best practices of information technology use.
Next, my colleague Sam Cronk will discuss CHICO, the School of
Information's Cultural Heritage and Initiative for Community Outreach.
Dr. C. Olivia Frost, Associate Dean of the School of Information,
developed CHICO in 1995. CHICO is a collaborative process, which has
fostered online partnerships among museums, archives, schools and diverse
communities nationwide. Our projects range from a digital exchange of
stories and images about cultural heritage among schoolchildren nationwide
to the social history of Salsa music. Common themes include the
communities with whom we primarily work (that is, Latina/o,
African-American and First Peoples) and our focus on an interdisciplinary
integration of multicultural heritage within the K-12 curriculum.
Currently we are moving more towards establishing models for internet
development parallel to CHPI, providing frameworks and pilot projects for
communities to build their own resources.
Framing Our Work
Technological changes are occurring so rapidly that few of us have had
opportunity to assess their social and pedagogical implications as we
re-invent (or perhaps "re-purpose") our professions and institutions in a
digital environment. The tools of our trades - artifact, document and
data- are fusing, just as boundaries between author and end-user become
increasingly blurred. There is a revolution unfolding, reshaping the ways
in which knowledge is being created and communicated.
Our project with the Flint Public Library is one case in point. Working
with a remarkable library staff, the CHICO team designed a very simple
digital framework enabling Grade 9 and 10 students from a local high
school to build an online socio-cultural Timeline of Flint, Michigan .
Since January 1998, as part of after school or summer programs, students
have completed 'Cyber Certification' classes and learned to use basic
webpage software. They researched specific events and individuals through
resources at the library, creating digital texts with references to
primary documents. In the near future, we anticipate that genealogical
societies, museums, churches and businesses will add their own digitized
stories to the Timeline with assistance from the library staff.
A parallel and much more elaborate project is underway in Ann Arbor.
Directed by Dr. David Scobey, the 'Students on Site' or 'SOS' initiative
partners faculty and students in History, English, Architecture and the
School of Information with local archives, historians and K-12 schools.
All are integral to an ongoing evaluative process, which has shaped this
'Students on Site' (SOS) explores the history of 'Lowertown' in Ann
Arbor, its physical environment, diverse communities and transportation
infrastructure (including waterways, railways and bridges). The heart of
the website developed by CHICO and the extensive SOS team is an Archives,
which includes materials such as maps, oral histories, photographs,
personal letters and government records. Staff from CHICO and the Bentley
historical Library developed the Archives. For every document, we provide
an extensive, hyperlinked catalogue record. Complementing the archives are
topics (or instructional ideas) written by the SOS team that group
selected documents around important themes such as the Underground
Railway, the development of regional parks, and the Great Depression.
There is also a Showcase for K-12 student projects inspired by SOS, and a
Teachers' Lounge allowing teachers to share lesson plans and providing
gateways to related resources. Initially developed in June 1998, the
website is now ready for classroom use.
Implications of the Digital Environment
Ideally, these projects provide a much broader access to historical and
contemporary resources. Through hyperlinks and multimedia, they provide
an enriched context specifically designed to encourage students to
undertake further primary research in local libraries and archives. And
they offer new vehicles for cooperation among academic and cultural
institutions and local organizations.
Digital initiatives such as CHICO and CHPI also increase the range of
perspectives and narratives presented online. The web offers a unique
opportunity for exploring 'multivocality', as invoked by James Clifford
and others . Several of CHICO's initiatives have been authored by and
designed in consultation with multiple scholars, educators and members of
communities who have often been marginalized within academic environs.
These projects include the Mariachi, Salsa, and Powwow virtual tours, the
Harlem Renaissance Exhibit and a forthcoming Chicana/o-Latino Educators'
Gateway. As with CHPI, this cooperative process ensures that cultural
heritage is preserved and shared with a level of authority and
authenticity determined by the communities themselves.
Another initiative, Snapshots of Who We Are , encourages students from
grade 3 through 12 to explore and define their cultural communities
through photography, writing and discussion. The students send us
photographs that best represent their sense of community and cultural
heritage. They also write brief essays explaining why these images
matter, and what they want others to learn about their world. We have
multiple goals for this initiative:
Unlike CHPI, we are not providing direct training to the students, but we
do offer online advice. We envision this site as both an archives and a
stimulus for new initiatives. As a direct result of Snapshots, 150
seventh graders are building an exhibit on the "History of Watertown, MA
from a Youth Perspective," in their community library. The possibilities
are, of course, limitless.
- To encourage children to define and document their communities,
- To foster dialogue about these cultural communities and students
- To create a snapshot of North American cultures from youth
- To encourage opportunities for your people to develop their
technological skills through the use of the Internet.
I suspect that we are only beginning to address the potential of the
Internet, and how digital resources differ from books, records, tapes,
filmstrips, maps, slides and field journals. Even the essential concept of
documentation is being transformed. A digital document is potentially
nonlinear, polyphonic and dynamic. It may be interactive, engaging users
in sharing and building new resources. It is also notoriously ephemeral
and may disappear without notice. With all this in mind, online resources
and initiatives are perhaps better described as part of an iterative,
dialogic process rather than 'fixed text'. And this may prove instructive
for institutional and community cooperation. Collaborative projects such
as CHPI and CHICO, which provide new models for cultural reciprocity and
exchange are part of a much larger interdisciplinary global conversation
taking place on the internet, one that is certain to challenge us and to
offer new opportunities for partnership among our institutions and
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation supported this work in a grant jointly
funded to Diné College and the School of Information. Materials
pertaining to the workshop will be found at
A short video documenting the
Institute in the words of the participants is available from the Cultural
Heritage Preservation Institute, School of Information, Ann Arbor, MI
Rating scale of 1-5 where 1 is 'very poor' and 'very good'.
Rating scale of 1-5 where 1 is 'not very satisfied' and 5 is 'very
Although not specifically presented during the institute, this topic
was addressed with the Diné College partners during the formation of the
institute and reflected in the choice of topics and arts presented during
See for example, James Clifford and George Marcus, Writing Culture:
The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: 1986); Gloria
Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco:
1987); Jose David Saldivar, The Dialectics of Our America (London: