Revitalizing Thomas Jefferson’s Vision for Preserving Native American Languages
On September 28th, the Scholars’ Lab welcomed Tim Powell, Director of Native American Projects at the American Philosophical Society where he oversees the Native American Endangered Languages Digital Archive. Dr. Powell is also a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Consulting Scholar for the Penn Museum. He has worked closely for the last ten years with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and Ojibwe Bands in northern Minnesota. He has won three NEH grants to create Gibagadinamaagoom: An Ojibwe Digital Archive.
Thomas Jefferson began the Native American language preservation project while President of the American Philosophical Society (APS) from 1797-1815. The APS recently received two Mellon Foundation grants to digitize its entire Native American audio recordings collection, totaling more than 3000 hours. The collection contains invaluable linguistic and historical recordings that scholars and Native American communities are using to bring languages back from extinction. The project also raises important questions about the meaning of Digital Humanities in august archives. In his talk, Tim introduced us to these efforts and discussed how cross-institutional work in the world of cultural heritage organizations might serve as a model for academic digital humanities writ large.