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Exploring the (de)Colonial Gaze through Archival Analysis and Teaching

  • Author(s): Garcia-Spitz, Cristela;
  • Emerine Hicks, Rachel
  • et al.

Who controls knowledge? How is indigenous knowledge shared, preserved, and maintained? Through an examination of the recently-digitized Papua New Guinea Patrol Reports in the Melanesian Archive at the UC San Diego Library, students dove into first-hand accounts from the post-World War II era of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to explore how remote indigenous communities were documented by kiaps or patrol officers, capturing information on village life such as census figures, languages spoken, health, food supply, tribal warfare and other local conditions.  The 5-week course called "Patrolling the Past to Explore the (de)colonial Gaze" was a CAT practicum (Culture, Art, and Technology) through Sixth College at UC San Diego.  In the course, students gained practical experience learning how to summarize the "aboutness" of texts and identify key subject terms of primary sources. On a theoretical level, students learned about the colonial history of Papua New Guinea, specifically thinking about how indigenous groups are represented by outsiders, who has access to knowledge, and methods of doing research in a decolonial way. They also focused on knowledge organization and forms of representation in order to consider how to create and curate digital data for audiences from all backgrounds. 

Descriptions of the course, the final syllabus, and blog posts written by the students were captured and shared on Knit, the UC San Diego Digital Commons open source teaching and community-building tool Commons In A Box (CBOX) at  By asking students to publicly share their reflections and class assignments via KNIT, students had to consider how they represented themselves and indigenous groups through their writing. The online platform alongside classroom meetings allowed for continual collaborations and interactions after class ended each day.   Using digital collections, especially historical archives, in the classroom allows for conversations about past representation, current access, and how archives can contribute to or hinder decolonial research.  It also allows for valuable collaborations between librarians, academics, and students.  

Co-taught by a Ph.D Candidate in Anthropology and a Librarian, the presentation will review the course objectives, share the teaching-and-learning and collaboration experience, as well as explain lessons learned through using a digital collection in the classroom and using CBOX as a tool for class engagement.  Through this presentation, we suggest that online platforms allow for collaboration, which when combined with archival analysis opens up the access to knowledge and learning often only available to those within academia.

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