Transforming Mukurtu

In 2007, the original Mukurtu was a browser-based, standalone project developed collaboratively by the Warumungu and Dr. Christen’s team of academic researchers. This alpha version introduced embedded community protocols around the sharing, creation, and narrative around objects and ephemera unique to the Warumungu.

This initial iteration was called The Mukurtu Wumpurrani-kari Archive, and its successful integration of community input and institutional support began to attract the attention of other indigenous groups. In 2009, Dr. Christen was approached by the Indigenous Peoples of the Northwestern Plateau to develop a working archive for their cultural heritage. While the Wumpurrani-kari Archive had the foundations for an indigenous, user-centered content management system, it could not be a direct solution for other groups. The Mukurtu team decided that it would have to develop a CMS that could be more broadly applicable to other underrepresented groups. It would reach out to grant-funding entities such as the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) for institutional support to build upon the alpha version of Mukurtu.

Writing reflectively in a white paper in 2012 at the conclusion of a grant cycle, Dr. Christen emphasized the need to “create a beta version (of Mukurtu) that would be accessible for testing within indigenous communities globally.” This point in Mukurtu’s history represents a key decision to expand the project from a one-off website for one group, into a global-minded project intending to affect a geographically diverse indigenous population.

Upon completion, the Mukurtu Archive transformed into the Mukurtu Content Management System. Its developers migrated its code into Drupal-7, created a metadata field for Traditional Knowledge Labels, linked data sets to present objects holistically, and made the CMS available for download through the web portal.

This period in the Mukurtu history represents a transformation from an academic project into a commercial product. The creation of a Youtube channel and a formal product website at this time signify the team’s intention to grow their one-off archive into a remixable, iterative CMS for multiple groups.

The Mukurtu Youtube channel

A later NEH-funded grant award in 2016 saw the project developing its CMS for mobile devices because research indicated that indigenous communities accessed the Internet through mobile devices. This grant supplied mobile devices to indigenous communities, and provided in-person digital literacy training to teach groups the functionalities of mobile Mukurtu. Another grant awarded at this time, from IMLS, wrote-in digital literacy training as well.

The spirit of each iteration of Mukurtu ultimately has emphasized the user of the platform. The project leads consistently have backed their proposals with research about indigenous communities and their Internet usage habits. Current roadblocks around digital literacy represent a much larger institutional problem regarding broadband Internet access in underserved communities.

It is instructional, then, that Mukurtu and its team continues to work with a revisionist lens—working with the existing framework to meet the needs of its users where they are.


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