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Yale and mass-digitization: creating open access policies sans cultural stakeholders?

by ridolfo on May 10, 2011, no comments

The Yale Daily Bulletin announced that “Scholars, artists and other individuals around the world will enjoy free access to online images of millions of objects housed in Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries thanks to a new ‘Open Access’ policy that the University announced today.

Ok, so far so good… I’m generally in favor of open access.

The article then went on to report that “in a departure from established convention, no license will be required for the transmission of the images and no limitations will be imposed on their use.

Ok, that could be positive… especially since remix culture is all the rage these days, right?

But then The Daily Bulletin’s article went into greater detail about exactly what holdings they’re including in this mass-digitization and licensing initiative:

The Yale treasures that are now accessible under the new policy are as wide-ranging as the collections themselves and include such diverse items as the war bonnet of Oglala Lakota leader “Red Cloud”

So I really hope the article is wrong, but this sounds as if Yale is mass-digitizing the cultural materials of living indigenous communities. Then, Yale has decided that images of these indigenous cultural materials images should be free and without restriction, even to corporations. I don’t need to connect the dots much more than this, but this sounds like a case of cultural appropriation 2.0* — one perhaps done under the auspices of “open access” and “creative commons,” but one that in this article appears to lack direct input from cultural stakeholders.

I hope that’s not the case.

*Bill Hart-Davidson, Michael McLeod and I have recently talked about these issues of potential harm-through-digitization in relation to our own work at the 2010 Symposium for Reimagining the Archive and the 2011 Conference of College Composition and Communication. Drawing on the indigenous work of Malea Powell, Craig Howe, Angela Haas, Moria Simpson, Qwo-Li Driskill and others, we’ve referred to these kinds of sweeping digitization projects (specifically those absent of cultural stakeholders) as potentially doing a kind of “tacit cultural violence” (termed by Hart-Davidson).