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Professor discusses digital Mukurtu archive

PULLMAN – Dr. Kimberly Christen, assistant professor in comparative ethnic studies at WSU will be discussing the Mukurtu Wumparrarni-kari Archive project on the BBC radio program “Digital Planet,” airing on January 29, 2008.
The Mukurtu project, a browser-based digital archive, was built around the cultural materials and personal and community photos of the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Australia’s Northern Territory.  The archive provides access to thousands of photos, videos, and other artifacts returned to the community and “virtually repatriated,” according to Christen, by national museums.

The unique aspect of the archive is that it is built around the cultural protocols of the community.  It takes into account the code of behavior for everyday life among the Warumungu.  For instance, men do not view women’s rituals, people related to one country or specific place cannot access or view the images from other countries without prior permission, and family members do not view images of deceased relatives.

In order to make the digital images of families, artifacts, sacred sites, ceremonies and other cultural materials accessible to community members, a digital system had to be created that mirrored their dynamic cultural system.

Unlike pre-packaged digital archives that primarily provide storage capacity and a process for image cataloguing, this adaptable Indigenous archive tool emphasizes access, accountability, and cultural appropriateness that takes into account the way in which people interact with, sort, search for, and reproduce cultural materials, images and the knowledge associated with them. 

Since 1995, Christen has worked with the Warumungu community on a range of projects and the idea for the archive came out of their interest in repatriating and managing their own cultural materials through their Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre. 

Christen’s research was funded by a WSU New Faculty Seed Grant.  Production team members include: Craig Dietrich, lead developer and graduate researcher, University of Iowa School of Art and Art History; Chris Cooney, interface designer and director of web communications, University of Idaho, Moscow; and Tim Dietrich, consultant developer. 

The BBC “Digital Planet” podcast can be downloaded at:

Information on the Mukurtu Archive is available at:
 and at

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