Haida Archaeology at the Virtual Museum of Canada

Rodney Brown at the Cohoe Creek Site, 1998. Source: CHIN.

The Canadian Heritage Information Network (the venerable CHIN) has, via the Virtual Museum of Canada,  a small online exhibit of Haida Gwaii archaeology posted.

I hate to be all grumpy since such initiatives should be supported, but seriously – the problems with this exhibit are manifold.  First, a number of the facts are wrong, despite the content being copyrighted 2009.  They use a figure of 9,000 years for first occupation, not the figure of 12,500 which is more reasonable.  That’s more than a 30% difference.  They state it was a grassland 10,000 years ago, when the better number would be 14,000 or more. It’s written in the first person, so apparently a Haida person wrote it – but really should that be an excuse? Maybe the details don’t really matter.

So, factual errors are unfortunate.  But they also have completely crap illustrations – low resolution, poorly lit images from ethnological collections are used to represent the archaeological record.  This is misleading on a number of levels.  Archaeologists do not usually find beautifully decorated clubs, for example, and it diminishes understanding of the archaeological record and process to imply they do. Indeed, the text of the exhibit lists the following “learning outcomes:

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe the history of Haida people revealed by archeology
  • Describe some Haida objects found in archeological excavations

As far as I can tell, not a single object “found in archaeological excavation” is shown and essentially no archaeological facts are given.

Also, all the pages, including “Haida Society since European Contact” are under the header of “Haida Ecology” which is a bit unfortunate.  Put the whole thing under “Haida history”.

It’s also regrettable that the pictures are of such poor quality, like this one of fish hooks.  I mean, this is a national institution, and the year of the web is 2009, not 1995.  People expect more and will tune out if you don’t offer them some substantial eye candy.  I think they have a right to receive it from the Ottawa heritage establishment – after all the NMC is sitting on a superb collection that most of us never get to see.

Finally, the information content is miniscule.  The whole thing can’t add up to more than 500 words and is cluttered with jargon like “Print this Learning Object” and “View the complete asset”.  What kind of robotic geek came up with that sort of bullshit management-speak? And every bit of this information has a copyright notice on it, even pictures from other institutions.  This page has SEVEN separate, identical copyright notices “© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.”

Memo to CHIN and the VMC:  no one wants to copy your minimalist, factually incorrect and low-resolution information anyway.  If you can’t do decent eye candy then do decent information.  If you can’t do either, then don’t try to bully me with copyright notices.

C’mon guys, you can do so much better than this, especially if your goal is to educate.  Email me, I’ll send you some pictures and fact-check your page.  No fancy consultancy charge will apply!

I just noticed this was NW Coast Archaeology blog post #100. To counteract this being so grumpy, here's a nice picture of camp life on Tanu Island.

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6 responses to “Haida Archaeology at the Virtual Museum of Canada

  1. Looks like some ghosts in this picture from Tanu! Spooky.

    Duncan

    Like

  2. I just checked that page with 7 identical copyright notices. They are now different and appear to give copyright to the rightful owners. Seems your voice might have been heard, directly or indirectly. Good work if so, though not sure other changes have been addressed.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Haida Archaeology at the Virtual Museum of Canada : Museum Media

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