Tupuna is the Māori word for "Ancestor", and is the working name of this project. This project was created as part of the University of Washington Information School class, LIS 529 A - Digital Humanities Librarianship, in Spring Quarter 2017.
In Winter Quarter 2017, I completed a Directed Fieldwork project with The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Under the guidance of Holly Barker, Curator for Oceanic and Asian Culture; and Kathy Dougherty, Collections Manager; I researched words in Te Reo Māori that could more accurately describe the Māori taonga in the ethnology collections. These were based on Ngā Upoko Tukutuku - the Māori Subject Headings in use by The National Library of New Zealand. While I was grateful that these taonga are on display so far from my home, they were part of the Pacific Voices exhibition which has been exhibited for twenty years, and could benefit from an updated approach to displaying cultural artifacts. Simultaneously, the construction of The New Burke signaled that there could be more opportunities for community involvement and that this work was timely. As part of this work, I was able to research and reach out to some of the artists whose work is on display, as well as descendants of artists who have passed on and may wish to know that these taonga are still being appreciated overseas.
During my Directed Fieldwork project, I learned that The Burke also has a collection of 962 Māori photographs (including albumen prints, slides, and negatives) which was donated to The Burke by Dr. John Elmore in 1953. The photographs span the 19th Century, and while they depict a mixture of landscapes, studio portraits, portraits for tourist use, and other miscellaneous photographs, The Burke does not have any identifying information on the subject, date, or place of the photographs. In ARGUS, The Burke's internal catalog, the photographs are simply described as "Photograph - Maori", with no other information available. While some photographs have writing or bear photographer's signatures, there is not currently the staff capacity or funding to research the collection. The Burke makes this collection known to visiting Māori scholars or students, but the collection is not on display in any capacity. However, the photographs are all digitized, and consultation with Auckland War Memorial Museum indicates that the bulk of the images now fall into the public domain for non-commercial use.
My intention for this project is to create a small-scale prototype that demonstrates the potential of these images to connect Māori with their Tupuna, and to illustrate the rich lives and mana of the Rangatira who allowed their images to be recorded. I also wish to honour the Tupuna ties to traditional land, particularly in the context of these images being removed from Aotearoa. My research has allowed me to identify a small number of these Rangatira, with varying levels of biographical information to accompany them. In considering this as a digital humanities project, I have included Google Maps widgets illustrating sites of marae or urupā (when publicly known only), and links to other institutional holdings such as oil paintings or other photographs of these Rangatira. While I would not recommend that all of the photos in the care of The Burke be displayed, it is exciting to think of the potential of this as a long-term project, and to consider online crowd-sourcing or social tagging as a means to identify some of the more candid photographs in the collection. A long-term version of this project may be best hosted in a content management system such as Mukurtu, which is an open source platform built by indigenous communities to share indigenous knowledge. Further improvements I would recommend include using macrons to properly spell words in Te Reo Māori, and to investigate a more interactive Google Maps widget.
The work I have done here is small, but it has been an enormous privilege to incorporate Mātauranga Māori as part of my studies. I hope to continue to research the collection as time allows. Many thanks to those who have helped me undertake this work, including Holly Barker, Kathy Dougherty, Whina Te Whiu, Theresa Graham, Bethany Edmunds, and Raewyn Paewai.