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Searching for Sharing

Daniela Merolla
Mark Turin

1. The Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library: The Implications of the Digital Return of Oral Tradition

Jan Bender Shetler

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  • 1 This chapter was originally presented at the Annual Conference of the African Studies Association, (...)

1The ethical issues around repatriation of African artifacts have long been at the center of practice for archeologists and museum specialists who continue to struggle with whether material artifacts should be taken out of their country of origin or not, and in either case how they can be protected and displayed over the long term. They have confronted the issues of where the necessary resources come from for protecting and curating these artifacts in a museum. Considerable work on ownership and display of cultural heritage has come out of conflicts in the US and Canada over the intellectual property rights of Native Americans, resulting in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA 1990) as well as the National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA 1989) in the US, and the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Act (1990) in British Columbia, Canada. The mandate from this work is that indigenous peoples must have a say and some control over how they are represented and who gets to use their cultural symbols (Brown 2003; Lonetree 2012; Mihesua 2000). Outside of North America, the same issues of legal rights were enshrined by UNESCO’s program for Masterpieces of Oral Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The ethical and responsible actions of scholars in regard to the return of cultural materials now became no longer a choice but a matter of both social justice and law.

2Those of us who work with oral tradition or oral history in Africa have only belatedly begun to face up to these issues. While oral historians have long used depositories like the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, one might note the similarity to collections of antiquities from all over the world in the British Museum – preserved but largely inaccessible to the people whose ancestors produced them.2 This becomes then an ethical as well as a technological issue. Even if we are convinced of the ethical obligation to repatriate this material, there remains substantial questions of how that would happen and how it would be received. I am grateful to the many scholars who have worked to develop this as a field of scholarship and practice, particularly having benefitted from the discussions around the 2012 workshop “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge”, published in 2013 in the Museum Anthropology Review.

3New digital technologies have made access to cultural materials possible in ways not previously imagined. Large scale projects like the World Digital Library, operated by both the US Library of Congress and UNESCO, are making digital website collections of primary documents and cultural treasures freely available and accessible around the world.3 Other collections include oral material in conjunction with partner communities, such as what is featured on the Digital Return website, the Digital Himalaya Project, and The Smithsonian Recovering Voices Initiative or the World Oral Literature Project, among others.4 The First Peoples’ Cultural Council Collaboration works with communities in Canada, the US, and Australia to collect and digitally archive indigenous language materials.5 Other groups digitally presenting African oral material include the Sierra Leone Heritage Project and the Africa On-line Digital Library.6

4Many scholars working alongside community partners within museums prefer the term “digital return” over “repatriation” of cultural artifacts to indicate a less law-oriented and more relationship-oriented process of community stewardship (Bell, Christen and Turin 2013 – also see this article for a discussion on the significance of NAGPRA legislation). Hennessey et al. (2013: 45) describe digital return as “a process of creating and maintaining relationships between heritage and cultural institutions, people, and digital data”. Within this emerging paradigm, museums make digital copies of artifacts and return only the digital version to the community. The nomenclature of “return” more honestly names the power and ultimate ownership in the transaction (Geismar 2013: 257). Projects in community-based participatory research are pushing the concept one step further by seeking not only to archive but produce materials in conjunction with the people who claim it as their heritage (cf. Atalay 2012; Robertson 2012). The issues of digital return are particularly acute in places of the world like Africa, which suffer from the inequities of computer infrastructure access and quality, but who are also jumping over the digital divide in terms of cell phone access (Geismar 2013: 254–263).

5My own historical research in oral tradition has been in the Mara Region of Tanzania over the past twenty years. I am now working to digitally return these primary sources to the communities that produced them, however ambiguous that may be in reality. The example of the Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library demonstrates the obstacles to completing that goal but also reiterates that returning this material in digital form involves a process of ongoing community dialogue and, above all, building long-term relationships.

The Digital Return of Research in Oral Tradition

6Since 1995, I have been interviewing elders, both men and women, in at least thirteen different language and ethnic groups of the Mara Region about oral tradition and historical memory. This region is particularly diverse, encompassing Southern Nilotic Tatoga, Eastern Nilotic Maasai, and Western Nilotic Luo as well as a great variety of East Nyanza Bantu languages including Kuria, Jita, Ikoma, and Ngoreme to name only a few. It remains one of the poorest, most isolated, and least studied areas in the nation, only recently discovered as a western portal to the Serengeti National Park along the park’s corridor to Lake Victoria. The materials I have collected include hundreds of audio and video files, music, transcripts, photos, maps, and more. In the process of my research and my previous work in the region as a development worker, I have generated a large network of relationships with community elders, churches, and government officers, and have been adopted into a family that helped to facilitate my research. This is the basis on which “return” will be negotiated.

7Hardcopy publications of my research material have been largely inaccessible in Tanzania, even when published in-country and in local languages. My publications of books and articles in US academic presses, including Imagining Serengeti: A History of Landscape Memory in Tanzania from Earliest Times to the Present (Shetler 2007), seek to interpret this region to students and scholars of African history. But I have also worked hard to make sure that some of the material that my local partners wanted to see in print was also published. I edited two collections, Telling our own Stories (Shetler 2003) and Grasp the Shield Firmly, the Journey is Hard (Shetler 2010) that took writing by elders themselves about their own oral traditions and published them in both Europe, and the US, as well as in Tanzania. These projects emerged as elders contacted me to see if I could help them publish the oral traditions they had documented. In both collections, the texts have facing pages in Swahili (or Luo) and English so that local people, as well as outsiders, could read the material. But the state of the publishing business in Dar es Salaam is in such dire straits that the publisher is reluctant to print too many copies of the books, fearing that they will sit unsold in boxes, and the press does not have money to commit to marketing or shipping copies around the country. Therefore, people in the rural Mara Region, far removed from Dar es Salaam, still have little-to-no-access to these books, which might as well be published in the US. In fact, one of these books is available in Print-on-Demand in the US and Europe through Amazon but is almost impossible to get in Tanzania. People in the Mara Region delight in getting these books when I give them away, but when they are available in local bookstores the price is prohibitive. Although barely enough to just cover the printing costs, people are not used to spending their scarce cash on a book – thus fulfilling the publisher’s fear that printing local history books is not sustainable. Perhaps the place where one of these books got the most press was where it was featured in a music video “Historia” by the popular Tanzanian music star, Lady Jaydee.7

8But what I most often hear from people in the Mara Region is that what they really want is access to my original interviews, to hear their own grandparents or respected elders who have now passed on tell the stories that are rarely heard anymore. There is a sense that these stories are being forgotten, and that even memories that I taped in 1995, twenty years ago, have not been passed on to the next generation. Youth who leave home early for school and work no longer sit with their elders, and have less connection with this material. Yet many are interested in learning what their elders valued in the past if they can access it through print or digital media. They don’t have time or inclination to gather these materials themselves back home and there are few elders left to tell them. Even those who remain in the region seem keen to learn about the past, at least theoretically. The Tanzanian Department of Education’s secondary school curriculum mandates teaching local histories. Yet there are few to no materials in the Mara Region available for this purpose, particularly because the ethnic configuration of the region is broken up into a diversity of small ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups. As one of the few scholars of this area, I want to make this material accessible back in the region in a useable, accessible and interactive form for future generations.

The Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library (MCHDL)

9With the increasing availability of new kinds of digital technologies it is now possible to imagine ways to return these collections of oral tradition to the communities or even families where they originated. My research in the Mara Region of Tanzania began with my 1995–1996 dissertation work, and continued through return trips in 2003, 2007, and 2010. At the center of my collection are recordings of more than five hundred hours of interviews, including hundreds of mini-audio-cassette tapes, photographs, videotapes, transcripts, field notes, genealogies, family histories, music, maps, manuscripts, dictionaries, and drawings, all in my possession. I have GPS points for historical sites overlaid on topographic maps, dictionaries put together by local intellectuals in the 1950s, and the transcripts and tapes of local historian Zedekia Oloo Siso’s research, among other items. Few historical scholars have worked in this territory and so this is one of the few collections of material on the history of the region. In 2009 I conceived of the idea of constructing an online Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library as a repository for these materials with the potential to add material from other scholars and local historians or students in the future. Since that time I have been slowly working through all of the obstacles involved in achieving that goal. The critical issues that I have faced in this project can be characterized as technological, economic, political and ethical; issues which can only be solved by building relationships with individuals, institutions and communities in a number of directions.

10The nature of a digital project frequently dictates that the scholar who is most invested in the material does not possess the technological expertise or resources to execute the digital library alone. As someone trained in history I faced the fairly high bar of technical expertise, making it necessary to seek out, and even pay for, the advice and knowledge of others to even know how to start. I also teach at a small liberal arts college, Goshen College, that does not have a department set aside for this work, nor do they have much funding for a project of this scope. Scholars of “digital anthropology” have commented on the “new kinds of technological exclusivity” that is generated by digital media requiring continual updates, training, and new infrastructure (Geismar 2013: 255). Yet whatever issues I may have in putting together a digital library, doing this in Tanzania would not be possible, at least currently.

11One of the first technical decisions was choosing the software platform from which to launch the project. Although a number of possibilities exist, we started with the Greenstone software which is a project out of New Zealand, supported by UNESCO, that seeks to create a free and robust system that can be run on older and slower computer systems with uneven internet connectivity such as might be found in rural Africa.8 It is also a platform that can be modified and used by people with less specialized knowledge. There are also many other possibilities that have been innovated or used by indigenous communities, and more being developed each year.9 So in the summer of 2011, with the support of Goshen College, I took the first concrete step forward in contracting a history student with technological skills to investigate and begin to construct the template for the Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library based on his research on best practices in the field.10

  • 11 Thanks to Dean Anita Stalter and Goshen College’s Maple Scholars program and Mininger Center grant (...)

12I also had to work with students on digitizing and converting all of the research material into a digital format that could be used by the Greenstone system, including adding the metadata using a modified form of the standard Dublin Core protocol that makes it searchable and connects related files. With the help of small Goshen College grants, a number of people, including students, have worked on the tedious and time-consuming task of digitally recording all of the old mini-audio-cassettes and video (VCR) tapes that are experiencing rapidly deteriorating sound quality.11 We have also had to work on converting an older database format that connects all of the pieces of the project together. A huge job for the future will be to insert tags into the oral material to be able to skip to those places based on keywords. Other students who know the local languages have been working on completing the transcripts. The collection is largely in local language mixed with Swahili and so would only be useful for people who know those languages. We have not done any translation except for making my interview notes available in English.

13We still have a long way to go but now have a very limited sample collection up on the internet that can be viewed live, even though many of the audio features are not presently working. Currently, the site is located at The library is browsable by material type and a variety of metadata fields including name of person interviewed, people groups, place-names, topic, dates, or keywords. The user-interface is available in both Swahili and English and we are working to standardize personal and place names. Ultimately, the goal is to make the MCHDL accessible, maintainable, expandable and searchable. Although we are now using a standard Greenstone structure, in the future we will need a more user-friendly interface requiring extensive web design.

14Even with this small sample set-up we still have a long way to go and a huge hurdle is economic constraints. Although Goshen College has been supporting this work with student assistance and the help of in-house technological expertise, the next step will take a much larger sum of money to have someone construct the final project as well as finish the digitizing and then load and tag all of the hundreds of files. I will need major grant money to make this possible. I tried to get grant funding from the American Council of Learned Societies and from the Africa-US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation at the US Embassy in Tanzania in 2011, neither of which came through. With cutbacks in funding for the humanities after the recession, one of the few sources of funding for this kind of project left is the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is highly competitive.

15Another huge hurdle economically is to find a permanent server location for the material that can be routinely upgraded and serviced. Goshen College does not have this capacity and is only hosting on a temporary basis, at personal expense. Last summer I made contact with the African Online Digital Library and more specifically the MATRIX Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University (MSU), which is hosting a variety of digital projects like the South African apartheid collection.13 They were impressed by what I had already done on my own and encouraged me to find the funding to complete the project and then come to talk about migrating it to their system. However it would also mean moving from the Greenstone platform to the digital repository software that they developed called KORA. Putting this on a larger site is ultimately the only way that the project will be sustainable in the long run. MSU also noted that one of their projects in rural South Africa did not depend on internet access there, but on the distribution of CDs, which might be a more realistic possibility for the MCHDL in some locations.

Ethical and Political Dilemmas of Digital Return

  • 14 For similar reflections regarding a chance finding of a famous artist’s song in a sound archive, s (...)

16But perhaps more troubling than overcoming the enormous technological and economic obstacles are the political or legal issues of “ownership” involved. The largest of these looming issues is that of permission or consent. Even if you have signed consent forms for an interview twenty years ago, no one at that time ever conceived of the possibility of the interview being made available on the internet to everyone. So does that mean one needs to go back and get new, signed consent from each informant, or their next of kin for the many that are deceased? What does that mean culturally when people are very suspicious of signing anything? Does it unintentionally signal that this is a highly profitable business? How do individual narrators give consent when the material is communal?14 The government of Tanzania, through COSTECH, originally granted permission for my research and does not have guidelines to follow for consent. Therefore, in my 1995–1996 research, I followed a professional and personal set of ethical norms for working with my informants and their communities without signed forms – always being transparent about my research and giving back tapes and other written materials where possible. Oral history does not legally require a consent form even if it has become best practice. Yet the legal framework followed by most digital return projects hosted on the internet entails written consent or some kind of legal agreement.

17Scholars and practitioners are beginning to discuss and find possible solutions to these pernicious questions around ownership and rights. Because of copyright law, when a scholar collects oral tradition that scholar essentially “owns” the materialscluding the recordings and transcriptions, and can choose to share them at will, whether or not any written or oral permission can be produced. When Aboriginal communities in Australia sought to gain some control over their heritage materials, they began to explore getting copyright and public domain rights to the material, as well as utilizing alternative “Creative Commons licenses”, all within the framework of international intellectual property law. Because indigenous people were understood to be the “subject” of recordings rather than the “author” their legal rights to the material are precarious at best. Even if digital return allows those communities access, it does not give them legal ownership of the materials (Anderson and Christen 2013). In Australia, the Traditional Knowledge (TK) license and labels were used to address the problems of unequal power for indigenous communities in negotiating intellectual property rights.15 Neither the interests of the scholar who wishes to make research material available, nor the communities that wish to protect it, are served by existing legal frameworks. Within the copyright law, all of these possible solutions depend on the identification of an individual author or an original work, whereas cultural heritage is by definition communal and not original to the one who tells it. There is an obvious need for reworking intellectual property rights law to accommodate and even facilitate digital return of cultural heritage (Anderson and Christen 2013: 107–108).

18Jan Jansen, working on the countryside of Mali, suggests that we must move away from talking about permission, consent, and rights to find more culturally appropriate frameworks for working respectfully with communities based on “permanent dialogue”. Those involved in this work must recognize a “dynamic society context”, that is constantly renegotiated, and will ultimately determine the nature and form of community control over cultural heritage. Perhaps instead of talking about “copyrights” we should be thinking in terms of “copy debts” – that is the debt that the scholar owes to the community for the work that has been cooperatively produced. Jansen (2012) suggests that making formal or legal agreements of ownership with the community will inevitably exclude some parts of the community and impose western definitions of ownership and individuality that are poorly suited to the context. Working through community relationships to facilitate this work may be more possible in Africa than in the US, Canada, and Australia where native groups have had to negotiate within the legal copyright framework. For example, the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project from British Columbia is an international collaboration to “facilitate fair and equitable exchanges of knowledge relating to archaeology and cultural heritage”, particularly through community-based participatory research for community-based initiatives.16 Even with African projects, legal permissions may still be required, not by the partner community but by the national government or institutional projects onto which the digital library is migrated. In the short run I will work with communities in the Mara Region to develop some kind of a “fair-use” agreement that will give them rights over the digital library, along with the level of control they desire.17

19Even given an agreement, a further question is whether the Digital Library should have Open Access on the internet or be closed with admittance by petition, and if so who would monitor the site. Some indigenous communities have solved this question by building in “cultural protocols” to define the level of access both within and outside the community. But if the material is on the internet it is difficult, if not impossible, to control how the information will be used. In some communities “Outreach Licenses” have been developed for use of material outside the community, which necessitated communication with the community and some expectation of reciprocity, even for educational use (Anderson and Christen 2013: 112, 115). These agreements depend on identifying and bringing together the various parties who have a stake in the heritage material for conversation. I hope to be able to return to the region and begin to work through some of these questions. I have already made contacts by email, both in the region and in Dar es Salaam through the University.

20The fact that most of the material in the MCHDL is in local languages naturally limits who can use it, and makes it an important source of material for language preservation. This region is made up of many small ethnic groups speaking many different Bantu and Nilotic languages, meaning that few people outside the region could understand the audio files. As local languages quickly go out of daily use in preference for Swahili among the younger generation there is a higher danger of language extinction (Cha chom se nup [E. J. Smith] et al. 2013). The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), working in the Mara Region to document and preserve indigenous languages, is interested in accessing audio recordings in the MCHDL as documentation of Mara’s languages with original cultural material.18 This will be an important partner for the MCHDL. British Columbia’s First Peoples’ Cultural Council established to record and digitize indigenous languages for their larger project of cultural revitalization (Cha chom se nup [E. J. Smith] et al. 2013: 195).19

21In many digital return projects communities and scholars raise the issue of public access to culturally sensitive material. The oral traditions that I collected are considered communal property, but knowledge of those traditions is controlled by the male elders and given out to those who should know. The knowledge is not their individual property and yet they choose when and how to share or to keep the knowledge secret (Shetler 2002). I specifically avoided and did not solicit information that the elders considered secret and sensitive material. I often went with the elders to specific sites that are important in the origin or settlement traditions which provoked more historical memories. What I collected was the stories of origin, migration, nineteenth century conflict and famine, and their interactions with the colonial government and Serengeti National Park. This material, albeit public, is usually shared within groups of men who are responsible for passing the knowledge on, even as women are around to bring them food or beer. Some of my audio files include biographical material from the elders or information about their particular area of expertise, but again, as public information. Most of my interviews were conducted in a family homestead with neighbors, women, children and youth coming in and out as we talked. As far as I am aware none of this information would be harmful to anyone involved, although as an outsider I do not know that for sure. Whether the material should be all open for public access or some of it restricted will have to emerge in conversations with communities involved in the region (cf. Leopold 2013 for a sensitive case study).

22And then there is the thorny question of who can speak for the community out of the many different parties involved, each with different interests in the digital library. Many of my original informants are now deceased, but even if they were alive the knowledge is not theirs individually. Their next of kin, clan or ethnic group could be identified, but who could speak for those groups and by what authority? This is a particularly tricky question in this heterarchical region without chiefs until the colonial period. The government as well as the university also has interest in preserving cultural heritage, particularly through the East Africana Library at the University of Dar es Salaam. One must acknowledge that there are a variety of voices and perspectives involved, even among people who live in the Mara Region that have some connection to the cultural material. Most digitization projects with material from indigenous people deal directly with “community gatekeepers”, who make the decisions on behalf of others, without questioning the dynamics behind their authority. Because of easy access to digital collections, internal divisions and interests in the community must be engaged. Decisions on restricted or public access to cultural material has the potential to enhance the power of one group on the basis of gender, status or age, as well as lineage, over others. Of course issues of power and the potential for profit have always animated access to cultural heritage in museums, but now those dynamics have to be engaged more directly in conversation with the community on an ongoing basis, even after they gain access to the digital library (Leopold 2013: 88–89).

23Even with permissions of some sort there is still the much larger epistemological question of how the translation and use of metadata in a digital library will affect the use and transmission of oral tradition (Geismar 2013: 258). Because digital information is so easily shared, copied and revised, the effects on traditional knowledge are potentially enormous, but at this point unknown. Many indigenous communities assume that access to digital collections will bring about the revitalization of cultural knowledge as well as encourage the on-going creation of new material, which they are taking deliberate steps to make happen (Bell et al. 2013: 7). But there is also the danger that oral tradition will become reified in one version rather than remaining a living dialogue of various perspectives and versions of the past. Recent scholarship in East Africa investigates the work of popular historians whose writing about “tradition” undergirds the exclusive claims of ethnic patriotism to land and the patriarchal authority of elders (Peterson and Macola 2009; Peterson 2012). My own research is now concerned with the very different kind of historical memory maintained by women in this region that does not follow ethnic lines (Shetler 2015). Thus, a digital library of cultural material may support a particular interpretation of the past and a particular claim to legitimacy. That is another reason why a broader range of community voices must be kept in dialogue.

24The other political issue is that unless I have strong community partners who are willing to host the Digital Library and give locals access to it on their computers, the whole project will be untenable, as very few people have access to computers within their homes. With the contacts I already have in both the region and the nation, I have begun to write to people and institutions to ask if they are interested in hosting the Digital Library. These institutions include Secondary Schools up through a Theological College and a Teacher’s Training College, Museums and Libraries, a Language School, Churches, NGOs, Community Resource Centers, the SIL, and the Government Cultural Office, as well as the University of Dar es Salaam East Africana Library collection. Most of these inquiries resulted in positive responses but perhaps without really knowing what it might entail. When I return to the region I want to explore with them what it would mean to have a set of CDs or internet access to the collection and whether they would have to charge a fee to be able to supervise its use.

  • 20 For collaborative platforms see the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts (...)

25In my most optimistic vision of how the library will be used I imagine local individuals, groups or students adding their own content to the site, commenting on what is already there, or doing more research, transcription or translation of the material. Scholars who publish from research in the region might also post links to their work. I hope that we can build some of this capacity into the library from the beginning. Many of the current projects with partner communities make use of the capacity for user-generated content and locally produced exhibits or other ways to share material (Bell et al. 2013: 6).20 In this way the “digital return” becomes cyclical, rather than a one way process (Geismar 2013: 256).


26Though huge hurdles remain in terms of funding, expertise and agreements, as well as my own stamina to continue this quest along with my teaching and research, I maintain that this is something that everyone who has collected oral tradition in Africa should consider. The questions about ultimate ownership of cultural heritage are the same whether we are talking about material artifacts or the spoken word. They are complex ethical questions that have no easy solutions and require a huge expenditure of resources and time without much return except the satisfaction of the community relationships. Sometimes the obstacles, both for the scholar and for the community, seem too high to make the endeavor worthwhile. Because of the expense involved in this kind of project it would be difficult for African nations to require this as part of permission to conduct research in oral tradition. And in the end it is quite possible that not many people would actually be interested in taking the time to search through and use the material. But in spite of that, it is something that should be there for the time, if and when, people become interested and begin to ask. Of course, ultimately it is up to the communities themselves to preserve their own heritage and that does not depend on digital materials of any kind: “Collective memory belongs in people and place, not solely on electronic or digital tools” (Cha chom se nup [E. J. Smith] 2013: 192). It is my hope that the Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library can serve as a tool to aid in passing on collective memory, but only as a small contribution in the larger scope of the process for Mara communities. Ethical and respectful sharing and exchange of knowledge through digital media is only possible by building relationships between scholars, community members and the digital material itself over the long term (Hennessey et al. 2013).



Anderson, J. and Christen, K. (2013) “‘Chuck a Copyright on It’: Dilemmas of Digital Return and the Possibilities for Traditional Knowledge Licenses and Labels”, Museum Anthropology Review 7–1/2: 105–126.

Atalay, S. (2012) Community-based Archaeology Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities (Berkeley, University of California Press).

Bell, J. A., Christen, K. and Turin, M. (2013) “Introduction: After the Return (Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge)”, Museum Anthropology Review 7–1/2: 1–21.

Brown, M. F. (2003) Who Owns Native Culture? (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press).

Cha chom se nup (Smith, E. J.), Heekkuus (Wells, V. C.) and Brand, P. (2013) “A Partnership between Ehattesaht Chinehkint, First Peoples’ Culture Council, and First Peoples’ Culture Council’s Firstvoices Team to Build a Digital Bridge between the Past and the Future of the Ehattesaht Chinehkint Language and Culture”, Museum Anthropology Review 7–1/2: 185–200.

Geismar, H. (2013) “Defining the Digital”, Museum Anthropology Review 7–1/2: 254–263.

Hennessy, K., Lyons, N., Loring, S., Arnold, Ch., Joe, M., Elias, A., and Polk, J. (2013) “The Inuvialuit Living History Project: Digital Return as the Forging of Relationships between Institutions, People and Data”, Museum Anthropology Review 7–1/2: 44–73.

Jansen, J. (2012) “‘Copy Debts’? – Towards a Cultural Model for Researchers’Accountability in an Age of Web Democracy”, Oral Tradition 27–2: 351–362.

Leopold, R. (2013) “Articulating Culturally Sensitive Knowledge Online: A Cherokee Case Study”, Museum Anthropology Review 7–1/2: 85–104.

Lonetree, A. (2012) Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums (Chapel Hill NC, University of North Carolina Press).

Mihesuah, D. A. (ed.) (2000) Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press).

Peterson, D. R. (2012) Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Peterson, D. R. and Macola G. (eds.) (2009) Recasting the Past: History Writing and Political Work in Modern Africa (Athens, Ohio University Press).

Robertson, L. (2012) Standing Up with Ga’axsta’las: Jane Cooke and the Politics of Memory, Church and Custom (Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press).

Shetler, J. B. (2002) “The Politics of Publishing Oral Sources from the Mara Region, Tanzania”, History in Africa 29: 413–426.

― (2003) Telling Our Own Stories: Local Histories from South Mara, Tanzania (Leiden, Brill) (republished in 2004 by Mkuki na Nyota Press, Dar es Salaam).

― (2007) Imagining Serengeti: A History of Landscape Memory in Tanzania from Earliest Times to the Present (Athens, Ohio University Press).

― (ed.) (2015) Gendering Ethnicity in African Women’s Lives (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press).

Siso, Z(edekia) O. (2010) Grasp the Shield Firmly, the Journey Is Hard: A History of Luo and Bantu Migrations to North, Mara (Tanzania) 1850–1950, edited by Shetler, J. B. (Dar es Salaam, Mkuki na Nyota Press).


1 This chapter was originally presented at the Annual Conference of the African Studies Association, Baltimore, 22 November 2013.

2 Archives of Traditional Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, “Mission”,

3 “About the World Digital Library”,

4 Digital Return,; The Digital Himalaya Project,; The World Oral Literature Project; The Smithsonian Recovering Voices Initiative

5 First Peoples’ Cultural Council,

6 The Africa Online Digital Library,; The Sierra Leone Heritage Project

7 Lady Jaydee, “Historia”,

8 Greenstone Digital Library Software,

9 See for example Mukurtu,

10 Thanks to Ted Maust, Kajungu Mturi and Oscar Kirwa who worked on this project over a number of summers, and Maple Scholars projects at Goshen College.

11 Thanks to Dean Anita Stalter and Goshen College’s Maple Scholars program and Mininger Center grants for supporting this work over a number of years, and more recently to

12 Thanks to Goshen College ITS and for hosting and working with the project until it can become self-supporting, and to Michael Sherer, Director of Technology at Goshen College for his support and willingness to travel with me to Michigan State University to think through the future of the project.

13 Matrix MSU, Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, Thanks to Peter Limb and Catherine Foley for hosting us.

14 For similar reflections regarding a chance finding of a famous artist’s song in a sound archive, see Camara et al. in this volume.

15 Local Contexts ( is the site for working out the TK arrangements. It is conceived under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Traditional Cultural Expressions (TKGRTCES).

16 IPinCh project description,

17 Kim Christen, working in Australia, consented “to transfer my rights in the materials to the community, who is and really should be recognized as the legitimate authority”. This is a release of copyright by the scholar to the community and signals “resistance to ongoing colonial privileges that the current copyright system perpetuates when it automatically vests ownership with me as the primary rights holder” (Anderson and Christen 2013: 120).

18 Summer Institute of Linguistics,

19 See also First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation, and

20 For collaborative platforms see the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Culture, or the Reciprocal Research Network,


(Ph.D., University of Florida) is Professor of History at Goshen College. She conducted most of her field research in the Mara Region of Tanzania documenting oral tradition, and in the archives. Her work has explored the history of social memory, identity, environmental relations, and place from precolonial times to the present. Other research includes work in Harar, Ethiopia. She has edited a number of collections of locally written histories from the Mara Region, including Telling Our Own Stories: Local Histories from South Mara, Tanzania (2003), which was a finalist for the 2005 Paul Hair Prize (African Studies Association) and a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2003. She is currently working on a book manuscript, A Gendered History of Social Network Memory in the Mara Region, Tanzania, 1880-Present. Recent publications include an edited collection, Gendering Ethnicity in African Women’s Lives (2015); a book Imagining Serengeti: A History of Landscape Memory in Tanzania from Earliest Times to the Present (2007), and numerous articles for diverse interdisciplinary journals and volumes. Email:


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