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Symposium sparks broad discussion of ethnographic archives

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Elmira Köchümkulova and Catherine Hiebert Kerst
Elmira Köchümkulova of the University of Central Asia, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic (left) presented a poster on “Documenting Kyrgyz Cultural Heritage.” She also brought donations of many books about Kyrgyz culture, which were accepted for the Library by AFC archivist Catherine Hiebert Kerst (right). Photo by Stephen Winick, AFC.

In the weeks since The American Folklife Center hosted the Cultural Heritage Archives Symposium at the Library of Congress, we have learned about several collaborations that developed at the event. Fellow panelists are now co-authoring an article, others are creating a consortial grant application, and attendees from the same city who first met at the symposium are beginning to gather regularly.

We are heartened that the symposium continues to stimulate the discussion of ethnographic archival thought and practice. The event featured an inspiring collection from archivists, librarians, researchers, historians, theorists, media producers, journalists, technologists, community activists and educators representing many perspectives and cultural heritage archives of all kinds. As one attendee surveyed noted, “the cross-pollination that occurred was energizing.”

The symposium was held Sept. 26-27, just before the government shutdown. It featured numerous focused papers of 5 to 7 minutes each on topics ranging from digital stewardship to collaborations as well as presentations in two “marketplace” sessions. The presentation provided fresh strategies for contemporary archival realities. In all, 65 people made presentations during the two symposium days, including speakers from many American institutions from across the country as well as those from India, Egypt, France, Italy, the Kyrgyz Republic, the UK, and Canada. In total, some 250 participants attended the two-day event.

Sita Reddy 2
Sita Reddy of the Smithsonian Institution presented one of the keynote addresses, entitled “Whose Heritage? Refiguring the Botanical Archive in the 21st Century.” Photo by Stephen Winick, AFC.

The conversation about ideas from the symposium also continues through an array of blog posts, including ones from the English Folk dance and Song Society (EFDSS), the Oregon Multicultural Archive (OMA) and individual attendees, such as Lauren Work, a National Digital Stewardship Resident at PBS, and members of Cedars in the Pines: The Lebanese in North Carolina project.

Symposium topics were as diverse as circulating Bayaka music among source communities in the Central African Republic; ProjectHydra, a multi-institutional, open source tool to build & sustain digital repositories; and ethical considerations around the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, the oldest intangible natural heritage archive in Asia. Yet shared themes of stewardship, partnerships, ethics, and access permeated these seemingly disparate archival projects.

There is still much to be mined from this expansive event. Symposium presentations will eventually be viewable via the Library’s webcast site and we plan to feature a few guest blog posts from some of the presenters. We want to keep this important conversation going.

AFC archivist Catherine Hiebert Kerst contributed to this post. 

Comments (4)

  1. I met so many great librarians, archivists, information specialists, anthropologists, historians, musicologists and generally great people at this conference! Our project, The Lebanese in North Carolina Project, benefited so much. Great post, great conference!

  2. This event was one of the best symposia I have ever attended. While a good deal of the technical information was above my head, the general energy, the intellectual content, and the interesting projects presented provided important perspectives and fomented fascinating discussions that were available to all attendees. I congratulate the staff of the AFC, particularly Catherine Kerst, for their hard work in bringing this amazing gathering to the Library.

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