Historical Research and Resources in the Digital Age: Libraries and Institutional Cooperation

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 goals:

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.

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:

The Program

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 lives.

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 organizations.


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 programs.

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 project.

'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.


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 professions.

End Notes

i 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 http://www.si.umich.edu/CHPI/navajo/. 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 48109-1092.

ii Rating scale of 1-5 where 1 is 'very poor' and 'very good'.

iii Rating scale of 1-5 where 1 is 'not very satisfied' and 5 is 'very satisfied'.

iv 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 the institute.

v URL: http://www.flint.lib.mi.us/timeline/

vi URL: http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/sos/

vii 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: 1991).

viii URL: http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/snapshots/