Back to All Events

Ethnographic Photographs & the Ethics of Display

The Department of Information Studies and The HIVE at Curtin University welcome Dr. Ricky Punzalan from the University of Maryland, College Park to give a talk on the ethics of digitisation and display of content from ethnographic archives.


Title: Ethnographic Photographs & the Ethics of Display: Possibilities in the Age of Virtual Reunification



Libraries, archives, and museums are making great strides to digitize their archival holdings. The availability of digital surrogates has encouraged the creation of digital projects that facilitate collections management and content delivery. Virtual reunification offers possibilities to create and assemble digital versions of archives, artifacts, rare books, manuscripts, and other literary or artistic works of common origin that have been geographically dispersed for historical, political, or cultural reasons. Cultural heritage scholars have noted the potential of virtual reunification for facilitating “digital repatriation” and in enabling “cultural diplomacy.” However, access to ethnographic archives presents unique ethical concerns given their sensitive content and context of creation.

In this presentation, I will discuss the case of Dean C. Worcester’s ethnographic photographs of the U.S. colonial Philippines and the issues that hinder attempts to provide consolidated access to this dispersed collection. Worcester served as a U.S. administrator in the Philippines from 1899 to 1913. The photographs, which were taken during “ethnological surveys” to document the Indigenous communities of the islands, are currently dispersed among ten libraries, museums and archives in North America and Europe. As cultural heritage institutions facilitate virtual reunification projects, the ethics of online displays and the digital returns of Indigenous images pose concerns for scholars and Native communities.

This presentation will investigate some of the ways in which the desire to provide access contends with respectful representation. 


Presenter Bio:

Ricardo L. Punzalan is an assistant professor of archives and digital curation at the College of Information Studies, affiliate faculty in the Department of Anthropology, and co-director of Museum Scholarship and Material Culture program at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2016, he received an early-career grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to study and develop strategies to assess the impact of access to digitized ethnographic archives for academic and Indigenous community users. He also examines ‘virtual reunification’ as a strategy to provide integrated access to dispersed ethnographic archival images online. He leads a team of postdoctoral scholars and masters’ fellows to enhance agricultural data curation efforts at the U.S. National Agricultural Library. He holds a Ph.D. in Information as well as graduate certificates in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) and Museum Studies from the University of Michigan. He previously taught on the faculty of the University of the Philippines School of Library and Information Studies. His articles have been published in leading library and archives academic journals, including the Library Quarterly, American Archivist, Archivaria, andArchival Science. In 2012, he received the Hugh A. Taylor Prize from the Association of Canadian Archivists for his co-authored article in Archivariaon users and uses of digitized photographic archives.


Please note that food and drink are not permitted in The HIVE, however attendees are welcome to join us for a casual BYO lunch following the presentation (location to be announced on the day). 


Registration is essential as seats are strictly limited.