Last Friday the CHI fellows presented our ideas for what we’ll be working on for the rest of the year. I was torn between two ideas, but eventually settled on one that will be a greater investment in my future dissertation work: a digital archive for digitized material culture from Native American Boarding Schools. I was inspired by a project led by my advisor, Dr. Ethan Watrall, and MSU professor, Dr. Stacey Camp: the Internment Archaeology Digitial Archive (IADA). The IADA will be the only digital archive that preserves and provides access to digitized material culture from two camps where Japanese Americans were held during WWII. What struck me about the IADA is that it makes material culture from the internment camps more accessible to people who would otherwise not engage personally those historical contexts.

Map of historical boarding schools and orphanages from the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

Similarly, digital materials from Native American Boarding Schools have not been broadly digitized and archived for public access. I am interested in exploring what happens when digitized historical materials from multiple schools are brought into conversation with each other and contextualized. There are a few projects and one organization that I have been engaging with as I’ve been thinking about my CHI project proposal. The Carlisle Indian School Resource Center has been a leader in digitizing and sharing materials from one school. The Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has a stated mission “to lead in the pursuit of understanding and addressing the ongoing trauma created by U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies.” They recently released an interactive map of the boarding schools, and they recently won a grant to collect and preserve oral histories from boarding school survivors. I’ve had to ask myself: is my project bringing anything new and meaningful, beyond what’s already out there?

I think the answer is yes. I am especially interested in contextualizing the material culture from the schools. It’s easy for any historical narrative to become monolithic, and that’s definitely happened to narratives about the history of the boarding schools: the same images and headlines are used over and over. In reality, there was a lot of variation between the schools, and significant variation within the same school, especially over time. For my CHI project, I’m going to try to build a digital archive for material culture from the Mt Pleasant Indian Industrial School, mostly because the school and materials are nearby. The school campus is about an hour north of Lansing (the blue marker in the middle of the state on the map), and some of the materials from the school are held in Mt Pleasant at the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University, and at the Ziibiwiing Center. Material and interpretation available through the MIIBS board and Saginaw Chippewa tribe. They have been researching the school for a while, as well as teaching about it and facilitating community healing with school survivors, descendants, and affected communities. At some point, I hope to incorporate community-based participatory methods in the development of a digital archive, but at this point I’m focusing on getting the work done for my CHI project!

Enjoy exploring all the websites I’ve linked to. Let me know if I’ve missed any awesome resources!