Comparing Curation Styles: Collections Descriptions Inside vs Outside of Mukurtu / Sonoe Nakasone

This study path introduces learners to reflect on the act of curation, and builds on the example of Mukurtu to guide students through the critical decision-making behind selection and description of cultural objects.

by Sonoe Nakasone, Community Archivist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries

Learning Objectives

  • Prior knowledge: read Mukurtu case study
  • Develop perspective on ways Indigenous cultural belongings are gathered into collections.
  • Develop awareness of other modes and systems for curation and metadata.

This study path includes three related activities:

Hands-on Activity

Reflection/Discussion Prompt


Hands-on activity (30 minutes)

In this activity, students will be expected to reflect on the act of curation.  Prior to this activity, students should read Kim Christen’s case study on Mukurtu. Mukurtu is the first Content Management System (CMS) developed especially for indigenous communities. Students will select one Mukurtu site (a website that uses Mukurtu as its Content Management System) and one non-Mukurtu site.  

From each site, students will choose eight cultural belongings or resources as if they were curating a collection of resources for a museum.  As students select their items, they will answer the following questions:

  1. Why did you choose the items in your collections?
  2. How does the reason you chose these belongings affect your collection as a whole?  For example, did you collect based on a shared characteristic?
  3. What is the relationship between what you chose and who it belonged to?  How might this relationship affect what you would select if you were to choose more items for your collection?
  4. What is similar about what you chose from each site?
  5. What is different about what you chose from each site?
  6. How do the types of metadata (the categories used to describe what you selected) on each site compare?
  7. How might the metadata have influenced the curatorial decisions you made?

A list of suggested Mukurtu and non-Mukurtu sites are provided below, but the instructor may want to identify additional sites to add to each list for students to select from.

Suggested Mukurtu sites:

Voices of Amiskwaciy (Hosted by Edmonton Public Library)

Alutiiq Museum

Plateaus Peoples’ Portal

Suggested Non-Mukurtu sites:

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

The Heard Museum

Reflection/discussion prompt (45+ minutes)

The reading and case study discuss new ways of describing indigenous museum collection and thinking about “objects.”  In pairs or as a class, discuss the following questions. Instructors may replace or add to this list of questions.

  • Do objects have lives?  Why or why not?
  • What are some of the types of metadata that have not traditionally been included in museum, archive, or library records for cultural belongings?

Imagine something in your life that has had significant utility and meaning.  Perhaps it’s a favorite outfit or mug or your first car. How would a museum describe that item in 200 years?  How does this differ if I were to ask you to tell me about the item?

When curators select cultural belongings from indigenous communities to be part of collections, what should they consider?  What criteria would you use to form a collection? What information would you collect about the items? Which or how much of this information would you share?


Communities of practice

International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums

Exemplary projects

Plateaus Peoples’ Portal

Case Studies

Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Mukurtu CMS

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