Buildning in rainforest

Seed project: Ethical issues in the digitization of indigenous collections: the case of Världskulturmuseet

The main objective for this seed project within the Knowledge environment Digital Transformations is to strengthen the ethical discussions required in the digitization process of an indigenous collections.

Project information

Project manager
Admeire Sundström
Library and Information Studies

What is a seed project?

A seed project is a minor project funded by a knowledge environment or a research group at the university. The aim is to launch and promote excellent research. Depending on the financier, a seed project may be to idenfify new or deepen existing collaborations, preferably cross-disciplinary ones, to explore possible research issues in a feasibility study, to collect empirical material, or to write an application for external funding.

More about the project

The analysis of a document and the significance it holds within a given community influences its organization and representation in a database. When it comes to organizing and representing information from a marginalized community, this process involves not only rethinking the metadata required to describe, enhance access, preserve, and exchange information; but also, requires demonstrating an ethical concern when dealing with their sensitive collection.

A team of researchers from different institutions, including from the Swedish National Museums of World Culture (Världskulturmuseet), is currently working on the decolonising strategy for the museum’s indigenous collections. As part of this effort, they conducted a pilot test to migrate the Wai Wai collection from Carlotta to a free open-source software called Tainacan.

In the report explaining the situation, they justify the migration based on the intention to provide access to the collection's original owners, in this case, the Wai Wai community. The researchers interpretated the migration as the first step in decolonising practices but expressed concerns regarding the organisation of the collection, and ethical issue related to holding and displaying Latin American indigenous material on Carlotta’s database.

Meanwhile, the database continues to use an old-fashioned system of classification and terms that misrepresent the indigenous community. Since Carlotta still displaying the indigenous collections online with many issues related to the organization and representation of this material, this investigation aims to address these issues by first focusing on ethical concerns: What ethical issue can arise from digitalizing indigenous material? What conflicts can be found between Swedish digitization policies and Brazilian indigenous communities?

Therefore, the goal of this seed project is to engage in a theoretical discussion about the ethical aspects of displaying indigenous material in a cultural heritage institution. It also aims to analyse Brazilian guidelines from the Ministry of Indigenous Communities on indigenous images and cultural heritage. Additionally, it aims to explore how Swedish institutions have been dealing with these regulations through their actions. It is essential to consider all ethical issues before developing a knowledge organization system for the given collection, which represents the next step in this project.