Collaborative Research: Ethical Considerations in Three-Dimensional Digitization of Indigenous Heritage

Saturday, August 1, 2020 to Monday, July 31, 2023
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Games, Simulations, and Interactives, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals
Geoscience and geography | History/policy/law
Access and Inclusion: 
Indigenous and Tribal Communities
Des Moines Area Community College, University of South Florida

Three-dimensional digital models are increasingly prevalent in preserving tangible and intangible aspects of Indigenous material heritage. Yet, there are no comprehensive, clearly laid-out best practices that can guide researchers, Indigenous communities, and museum personnel in designing ethically sound and socially engaged 3D heritage preservation projects. The use of 3D technologies for heritage preservation and providing public access to digital 3D collections is well-established in the European context. While there have been several robust efforts on digitizing European national heritage, in the U.S. context, the focus often involves work with Indigenous heritage, instantly placing 3D projects into a post-colonial research paradigm with a complex set of ethical ramifications. This research examines emerging thoughts from the European context and connects them with best practices in digital Indigenous data management to identify practices that contribute to cultures of academic integrity that are inclusive of all stakeholder voices. This work fosters ethical cultures of STEM through the development of a comprehensive Responsible Conduct of Research guiding document that can be adapted to address culture-specific Indigenous perspectives as well as project-specific challenges in future 3D heritage preservation endeavors.

Project goals are accomplished through workshops and virtual collaborations that bring together researchers, Indigenous community members, and heritage preservation professionals with previous experience in the responsible management, protection, and sharing of Indigenous digital data and the use of 3D technology for heritage preservation. The collaboratively produced guidelines outline ethical considerations that can be used in developing: 1) partnerships with origin/descendant communities, 2) institution- and collection-specific museum policies on using 3D technology, 3) Tribal policies for culturally appropriate use of 3D technologies, and 4) training material and curriculum that integrates with other research compliance regulations pertaining to heritage preservation. The project explores the questions that have emerged through previous experiences using 3D technologies to preserve Indigenous ancestral heritage. These questions include the factors contributing to developing ethically sound 3D heritage preservation projects; the practices useful in 3D projects to foster a culture of integrity that equally engages academic and Indigenous perspectives; consideration for what constitutes Responsible Conduct of Research in using 3D technologies to preserve Indigenous cultural heritage; and addressing practice-based questions that contribute to understanding ethical challenges in digitally preserving and presenting Indigenous heritage. The project situates 3D modeling and heritage representation as part of the larger discourse on decolonizing core methodologies in museum management and anthropological collection practices. Results from this work can be adapted to training future researchers and digital heritage management professionals and creating meaningful partnerships in heritage documentation. This research cultivates cultures of academic integrity by informing heritage management policy on the critical importance of heritage ethics for the creation and management of 3D digitization projects involving Indigenous collections. This award is funded by the Directorate of Geosciences and the Directorate of Education and Human Resources.

Funding Program: 
ER2-Ethical & Responsible Res, AISL
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 
Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
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Team Members

Medea Csoba-DeHassMedea Csoba-DeHassPrincipal Investigator
Lori CollinsLori CollinsPrincipal Investigator

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