Re-describing Umiat in Museum Collections - Elizabeth Wessells

Part of:
9:00 AM, Saturday 5 Oct 2019 (30 minutes)
This project looks at model umiat in the collections of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington (UW). Models of the umiak, the open skin boat used across the Arctic, were created for many reasons including to guide future boat builders. Unfortunately, the scarcity of early museum records leaves us with little understanding of the knowledge and language represented by these umiat. Who made them, where they lived, and what words describe the many parts of the boats? For any museum, the Burke included, when there is little information describing the collections, the museum cannot easily make the tremendous culture heritage it contains available. Simply put, a museum cannot share knowledge that it doesn’t know it has. During my master’s work at UW, I began a photography project to digitally capture the details of each model umiak’s design. Now in my PhD, I am expanding this project to include the re-description of the Burke Museum’s umiat with the goal of discerning asspecific-as-possible geographic and cultural origins, and using Inuktitut and Yupik terms to describe the elements of design for the boats. Working with my language instructors, community members in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, and with master kayak and umiak builders today, the purpose of this project is to elevate Indigenous language in describing Indigenous cultural heritage at the Burke Museum, and to make these collections more accessible to Arctic communities. This poster will be a presentation of the progress thus far.

University of Washington, Seattle
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