Funding and Sustainability Issues

Funding and Sustaining Support for Long-Term Preservation (and Steps to Promote Profession-Wide Coordinated Efforts): Breakout Group Report

Breakout Group Participants

Anthony Aristar, Helen Aristar Dry, Andrew Bennett (Political Scientist observer), Jeff Clark, Carol Ember, Keith Kintigh, Jennifer Serventi (NEH observer), Matt Tocheri, Laura Welcher, Peter Wittenburg, and Robert V. Kemper (chair)

The Problem

For more than a century, anthropologists have been collecting data about the human experience. These data include the details of human history, the characteristics of the human species and related primates, the variety of languages spoken and written, and the cultural features of the world’s societies. Unfortunately, many data already have been lost to us and will not be available to future generations. Failure to record data properly, failure to store it appropriately, and failure to sustain our ability to “read” the data with changing technological platforms are the principal causes of data becoming compromised or lost. The present workshop and this breakout group is concerned with the possibilities of using new digital and Internet technologies to save anthropological data – in archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics. If we are successful in this great enterprise, we can stop our cultural heritage and biodiversity from being destroyed, lost, or so poorly maintained as to be worthless to future generations of scholars and communities in the U.S. and around the world.

Needs Prior to Seeking Project Funding

The members of the Breakout Group came to the table with recognition that the “problem” needs to be divided into smaller elements and those stages suitable for funding need to be established. While the difficult problems associated with dividing the world of anthropological data into components are being taken up by other Breakout Groups, we focused our attention on the need to be clear about the distinct paths to finding. To this end, we agreed that a project could be conceptualized into three principal elements:

(1) Start-up funding,

(2) Matching funds for challenge grants, and

(3) Long-term funding for sustaining the enterprise.

Having determined that these three domains could be specified without regard to sub-disciplinary considerations, we agreed that all anthropologists will need to develop management structure(s) to direct project(s) to carry out Digitization, Preservation, and Access – thus, the initialism DPA.

Developing a Project Structure

Members of the Breakout Group discussed the need to find multiple institutions and individuals of stature to cooperate in initial round of proposal(s) and project(s). These institutions and individuals would serve as “champions” for the project(s). Their participation would ensure the persons at nongovernmental organizations, governmental agencies, and other relevant institutions that an anthropological DPA project is of critical importance to the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. We also discussed the importance of including foreign entities in appropriate project planning. This is important wherever data have been acquired in other countries but now reside in depositories in the United States, or the data remain in other countries where they are studied by U.S.-based scholars.

Potential Frameworks for Project Funding

The members of the Breakout group spent considerable time considering the ways in which a DPA project could be framed. First, we discussed broad themes that go far beyond anthropology per se. Such themes might emphasize World Heritage or Biodiversity. Second, we worked on the obvious focus on Anthropology as a Discipline. Third, we considered the possibilities inherent in doing projects related to the sub-fields of anthropology (in the United States, these might be archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology, although some would feature applied anthropological as a fifth domain. A fourth approach would emphasize regional specializations (e.g., the historical recognized major culture regions of the world – e.g., North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia, and Oceania) within which anthropology as a discipline would play a major role.

Two Examples

1. Anthropological data often involve combinations of sub-disciplines and regions. Among our Breakout Group, we focused on the excellent example of the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America, known by its acronym AILLA. This archive currently is directed by Prof. Joel Sherzer of the University of Texas at Austin. For further information, interested persons can consult the archive’s web site, AILLA is a digital archive of recordings and texts in and about the indigenous languages of Latin America. Access to archive resources is free of charge. Most of the resources in the AILLA database are available to the public, but some have special access restrictions. Users must register and login in order to access any archive resource, but they can browse the catalog information without registering. To get started, users read “How to Use the Archive,” or go directly to the “Search” page.

2. A different kind of archive of anthropological data involves the work of an individual scholar or small group of scholars who specialize on a particular topic or research site. For this category, we discussed the archive being developed for the Tzintzuntzan Ethnographic Project, based on the long-term field research of Prof. George M. Foster and his colleagues, including Robert V. Kemper, Stanley Brandes, Peter Cahn, and others, in the community of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán, Mexico. At present, the physical materials are being archived at two locations, the Bancroft Library (UC-Berkeley) and Southern Methodist University (Dallas). The digitized versions of the data are being produced at the SMU site, with the goal that the resultant data (fieldnotes, census data, slides, photographs, negatives, maps, etc.) can be brought together for use by scholars and by members of the community of Tzintzuntzan.

Potential Funding Sources – “The Usual Suspects”

The members of the Breakout Group began our discussion of funding issue b y agreeing that an anthropology DPA project would need support from agencies to which the discipline’s scholars have turned for decades. We agree that support from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Beyond this set of the “usual suspects,” other potential funding sources should include the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as other federal, state, and local governmental agencies; private foundations; corporations and their foundations; universities, museums, and archives; and diverse international entities. Some of the funding could come through cost-sharing arrangements as well as outright grants.

Special Challenges of “Legacy” data

Members of the Breakout Group agreed that it is important to identify scholars and projects with data sets to be included in an Anthropology DPA. The challenge before us is establishing a system of priorities for processing their materials. There will be a need to find funding for digitization, preparation of metadata, and developing systems for long-term access to legacy collections. Many of those present are aware of the work done by numerous anthropologists and archivists during the 1980s and 1990s to establish the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR). Funded with financial support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation (and the enthusiastic leadership of Dr. Sydel Silverman, then the President of the Foundation), CoPAR was “dedicated to helping anthropologists, librarians, archivists, information specialists and others preserve and provide access to the records of human diversity and the history of the discipline.” After a series of conferences and meetings, CoPAR produced a useful guidebook, Preserving the Anthropological Record (1992, 1995), and established an Internet presence, currently available through the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives at

Challenges of “Contemporary/Future” Data

Members of the Breakout Group discussed the need to educate anthropologists about their professional responsibilities to establish appropriate systems for processing, preserving, and providing access to data. Realizing that CoPAR (see above) was designed to produce guidelines for these same purposes, and wishing to avoid a similar fate of falling by the wayside when key individuals reach the point of retirement or changing professional interests, we considered the need to find funding for these educational efforts among contemporary anthropologists.

Challenges of Access

We discussed the need to develop systems of participation in the Anthropology DPA enterprise for institutions and individuals in anthropology and beyond the discipline. Such systems might include free access, premium access, subscriptions, cost-per-search, cost-per-download, etc.

Challenges of Sustaining the Project into the Future

We concluded our work together by considering the following questions, to which we have no answers at this point in the development of the Anthropology DPA project:

What structures could be put in place to adapt to changing technical standards, especially related to digitization and interoperability/integration?

What can we do to ensure continuing participation of anthropologists in the project for decades to come?

What organization and institutions might be “shovel ready” if funded became available?

What individuals have data collections appropriate for an initial demonstration project?


The members of the Breakout Group realize that the challenges ahead are far greater than the resources that are likely to become available to meet them. This means that establishing priorities will be an initial and long-term issue if an Anthropology DPA project is to be successful for scholars and for our publics, in the United States and around the world.

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