The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.
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A Study of Database Construction for the Cultural Resources of Indigenous Peoples in Northern North America, with a Focus on the Minpaku Collection

Research period: January 2016 - December 2017 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years) Coordinator KISHIGAMI Nobuhiro

Reserch Theme List

Objectives

Across the vast expanse from Alaska and Canada in the North American continent to Greenland, various aboriginal cultures were formed, and many of them have survived to this day despite the changes that have occurred. The National Museum of Ethnology, Japan (hereinafter, Minpaku) holds over 2,000 items related to Alaskan, Canadian, and Greenlandic aboriginal cultures. However, research on the overall picture of these items has not been conducted, and much of the information remains unclear, except for several items from the Inuit and aboriginal peoples on the Northwest Coast of North America. In this project, we will re-examine the basic information Minpaku has on the items of the aboriginal peoples in the northern regions of North America, and add further information on the peoples, cultures, history, geographical environment, visual materials, and research papers related to the objects. Then, we will translate the basic information into multiple languages, to develop a database that will be widely usable.

Description

This project will follow the processes described below:

  1. We will obtain a full picture of all items of the aboriginal peoples in the northern regions of North America, which are housed in Minpaku, re-examine basic data already converted into a database, and conduct naked-eye examination of the items as necessary. Based on the above, we will organize the information for the database and create a basic information database in Excel format.
  2. We will classify the items into seven categories: Alaskan Region, Northwest Coast Region, Plateau Region, Great Plains Region, Subarctic Region, Arctic Region, and Greenland. Then, we will study the peoples, cultures, history, geographical environment, visual materials, and research papers on each item, and create the data for each item in Japanese and English. In principle, we will organize and classify each item and its related information by people or region.
  3. After all the information has been collected, we will contact the Royal British Columbia Museum, the Canadian Museum of History, the U'mista Cultural Centre, and other Canadian public and aboriginal museums for information exchange, and conduct fieldwork in Canada to verify any information as required before opening the database to the public. The fieldwork will be funded partially by Scientific Research A " Museology for Museum Networking” (Project Leader: Ken’ichi Sudo).
  4. Based on the outcome of the above, we will finalize the data. We will translate the basic data into their local languages as comprehensively as possible, with cooperation from Canadian aboriginal museum stakeholders and aboriginal groups. Also we will prepare visual information on the items, the aboriginal peoples, and their natural environment.
  5. After the creation of the database content, we will prepare for its opening to the public or/and stakeholders through discussions with members of the System Development Working Group of the Info-Forum Museum Committee.
  6. We will disclose the database online (on the Info-Forum Museum).

Expected results

Note: The results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
We will create Japan's first encyclopedic database on the cultures of the aboriginal peoples in the northern regions of North America, from which users can extract not only the explanation of the items in the Minpaku collection, but also general information and visual data of such peoples and their cultures, societies, environment, history, and current status. Moreover, the Info-Forum Museum’s functionalities will enable one to obtain revised information and comments from aboriginal people about the items. Therefore, the database itself will become a forum for discussion and a tool for further research. Moreover, peoples of the aboriginal communities, like anyone in the entire world, will be able to use the database for collecting information. Schools in Japan will be able to make use of it also.

Outcomes from 2016

1.The state of the implementation of this year’s research
The work planned at the time of application has almost been completed, and we are ready to disclose it during the next fiscal year. Our research achievements in FY 2016 are as follows:
・We checked the basic information of approximately 3,000 North American objects in Minpaku (697 prints by Northwest Coast People, 405 Inuit prints, and 1,936 objects other than the above) and photos. The basic information consists of 15 items including object titles, local names, user of the object, locations and year of use, purposes and how to use, object maker, and text information) and photos of approximately 3,000 North American materials stored in the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku). We also corrected and added object information in Excel files, and additionally photographed approximately 154 objects.
・We collected ethnographic information by cultural area and ethnic group to include in the database.
・I visited the Glenbow Museum, the Manitoba Museum, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Canadian Museum of History, the McCord Museum, the Musée de la civilization à Québec, the Rooms Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador), the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, the University of Cambridge, the British Museum, and the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples, to gather and check the information on their objects and request their cooperation in translating it into local languages.
・We translated basal information into English and/or local languages.
・We have made preparations to disclose the information on-line, with the help of experts in information science.

2.Overview of the research results (achievements of the research objects)
In this fiscal year, we scrutinized basic information and image data on approximately 3,000 objects of the indigenous peoples in Northern North America. We also made corrections and additions to inaccurate or insufficient parts, and took 154 photos of items lacking image data. In addition, we visited 10 museums in Japan and abroad for research. We established a cooperative network, and translated into English and/or local languages to upgrade such data. In particular, we have concluded an academic agreement with the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Based on these achievements, we constructed a basic form of a database as an Excel file to disclose it.

3.Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)
Kishigami, Nobuhiro (2016) “Concept of an Info-Forum Museum at the National Museum of Ethnology” Ito, Atsunori (ed.) Re-Collection and Sharing Traditional Knowledge, Memories, Information, and Images: Challenges and the Prospects on Creating Collaborative Catalog (SER 137), P.15-23, Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology (in Japanese).

Kishigami, Nobuhiro (2016) “An Info-Forum Museum for Cultural Resources of the World: A New Development at the National Museum of Ethnology” Ito, Atsunori (ed.) Re-Collection and Sharing Traditional Knowledge, Memories, Information, and Images: Challenges and the Prospects on Creating Collaborative Catalog (SER 137), P.25-33, Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, (in English).

Kishigami, Nobuhiro (2017) “Project: Advanced Digitalization and Information Development for Materials on Indigenous Peoples in Northern North America Collected by Minpaku,” Minpaku Tsushin [Minpaku News Letter] 157: 14-15.