Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
August 12, 2000 - Issue 16

UW Weaves Wide Web of History
by Ruth Schubert Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
Graphics courtesy American Memory-American Indians of the Pacific Northwest

You may be surprised to learn that your local middle school has 2,300 photographs of Pacific Northwest Native Americans.

It boasts a copy of the original treaty between the U.S. government and the Puyallup Tribe, and it offers reports written by the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the late 19th century.

Thanks to an online project at the University of Washington, the materials are available on a Web site called "American Indians of the Pacific Northwest."

The UW's most ambitious digitization project yet, the site represents its most sophisticated contribution to the tidal wave of digital materials surfacing on the Web.

"There are quite a few photography collections, but we'd never done anything that was this involved," said Gary Menges, preservation administrator for the UW's libraries.

The project is part of the Library of Congress American Memory Project, an ambitious national effort to create a digital chronicle of the history and heritage of the United States.

In addition to material provided by UW special collections and manuscripts, the Eastern Washington Historical Society contributed a wealth of information about the plateau tribes, and the Museum of History and Industry
in Seattle donated 130 images.

The quantity of online material, although minuscule compared with what's available in print, audio and video, has been growing fast.

Less than two years ago, the American Memory Web site contained 38 library and museum collections. Today, the site lists more than 80, with 37 more in the works.

"It means that people don't have to come to a library or museum or archives to use things on site," Menges said. "They can use it from home or from school or whatever."

The Library of Congress adds collections with an eye to what will be most valuable to students, researchers and teachers. The Indians of the Pacific Northwest Web site reflects that vision as a tremendous educational

Photographs are accompanied by original documents and essays written by anthropologists, historians and teachers. Photographs and documents are searchable by topic. Study questions help teachers develop lesson plans.

The section on totem poles, for example, includes such questions as: "Does your family have any symbols of their identity or records of their history? Locate images of totem poles in the popular media, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, commercial logos, movies, etc. In what way might these images be stereotypes? Why did government agents and missionaries discourage the carving of heraldic poles?"

Rather than simply asking students to write a report on Native Americans, the study questions and the depth of material promote more challenging class assignments, said David Buerge, an author and middle school teacher at St. Catherine School in North Seattle.

"What we suggest is, ask a couple of intelligent questions about a group or topic in particular," said Buerge, who helped create the Web site. "We're really asking kids to think and do far more intelligent things."

The UW has particularly strong holdings in Northwest topics, so Pacific Northwest Native Americans was an ideal subject for its first project of this scope.

It took two years of scanning, writing, editing and cataloging to get the Web site up and running.

"They take a long time because they get very complicated," Menges said. "It's kind of like doing a publishing project. . . . It's not just the scanning."

Beyond the classroom, Menges believes the digital collection will be valuable to a range of people -- including Native Americans.

"They don't necessarily have the texts and the images in their museums or in their communities," he said. "You never know how people are going to use this. I think that's one of the interesting things about making all of this material so accessible."

The sites
To view the University of Washington's online collection and offerings from
the Library of Congress, check these Web sites:

The UW's American Indians of the Pacific Northwest:

The Library of Congress American Memory Project:



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