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The Passing of Aboriginal Knowledge Through Databases

The Passing of Aboriginal Knowledge Through Databases

The article “Computer Databases and Aboriginal Knowledge” by Michael Christie discusses the relationship between Aboriginal knowledge and databases. The aboriginal elders wanted to put their history and traditions in an electronic database so that their youth would be interested in learning about their culture. 

The Aborginal people used databases to catagorize their information for easy access in a digital archive. Databases and digital archieves seem very similar at first, but they are not the same. A database is a structured set of data held in computer that is accessible in various ways and a digital archive is a collection of digital information objects with the intention of providing long term access to the information. The digital archieve is used to store information for the indefinite future, being able to uphold changes in technology. The difference between them is that databases offer the ability to search through the records and archives are simply a collection of documents that are not searchable. The Aborginal believe that databases contain formation and not knowledge. In order to get knowledge from the database they need to immerse themselves and engage with the information and to make connections and interpret the data.

The article describes a database as containing, “a number of digital objects (eg texts, photos, videos, audio files) each of which has a text file of metadata linked to it. The metadata (‘data about data’) is like the library catalogue, through which one can find books by searching for topic, title, author, keywords etc.” (Christe). Most commonly, each object has one metadata file attached to it, however it is possible for one object to have several metadata objects and vis versa. When setting up a database there are many technical and political decisions of how it should be labeled and categorized so that it can be easily searchable. An indigenous database needs to be set up differently than a normal database because there are many connections to a word. The same word may be place name, a person’s name, a sacred object, a ceremonial procedure, or label for a totemic connection between groups.

The Aboriginals set out to create a digital archive of information for their youth to learn them through the creation of a searchable database. 


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