WSU digital archiving project receives prestigious Mellon grant

By Adrian Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have received a $555,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support development and evaluation of a unique online platform for gathering, curating and sharing Native American library and archive collections nationwide.

This three-year grant follows a $69,500 grant by the Mellon Foundation to WSU in 2015 for the project-planning phase.

The new support will enable the expansion of Mukurtu CMS, a free, open-source content management system developed at WSU, to create Mukurtu Shared, a culturally responsive online platform and process for ethically curating Native American materials within cultural, linguistic and social protocols.

christen_kim, , director of digital initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator on the grant

“Mukurtu Shared will connect tribal and national repositories and enable Native and non-Native curators to responsibly, respectfully and reciprocally manage and share cultural heritage materials and encourage others to engage with the materials,” said Kimberly Christen, director of digital initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator on the grant.

“By providing a standardized, replicable workflow and shared online platform, Mukurtu Shared will, in essence, change the way federal repositories curate their Native American collections, promoting collaboration at all stages, and it will give repositories of Native culture a new model for collaborative curation.”

Mukurtu Shared seeks to fill gaps in the scholarly and cultural record while advancing WSU in its Grand Challenges commitment to promoting an informed and equitable society, Christen said. It will be hosted and sustained by WSU so other institutions and communities will not need to maintain the platform or switch from their existing infrastructure.  

CDSC staff assist members of tribal stewardship cohorts with their digital curation projects.
CDSC staff assist members of tribal stewardship cohorts with their digital curation projects.

“Mukurtu Shared will bring historical and cultural treasures, held in repositories and specific to our people and community, full circle and into the hands and hearts of those to whom they mean the most—our community,” said Amelia Wilson, executive director of the Huna Heritage Foundation, one of seven partners in developing the project.

For more information on the project, see the College of Arts and Sciences Story Hub website.  

Collaborating across boundaries

Mukurtu CMS is managed through WSU’s Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, which Christen directs. A joint center of WSU Libraries and the College of Arts and Sciences, the CDSC promotes collaboration between community members, students, faculty and researchers on digital projects and scholarship that crosses academic boundaries and public–private distinctions.

The center and associated Mukurtu CMS projects have brought almost $3 million in external funds to WSU in the past four years to promote ethical curation practices and digital stewardship training.

The sustainable, scalable software platform now is used around the world. Users include the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, which curates diverse collections from repositories across Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho, and the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center (AFC), an institutional partner in developing Mukurtu Shared.

Other partners include the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives and National Museum of the American Indian; the Ziibiwing Center of Anishanabe Culture and Lifeways; the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center; and the Penobscot Nation.

This work advances WSU on its Drive to 25 by supporting innovative teaching and research, community engagement and global outreach.



  • Kim Christen, professor of digital technology and culture and director of digital initiatives, College of Arts & Sciences, 509-335-4177,,
  • Todd Butler, chair and associate professor, Department of English, 509-335-2639,
  • Adrian Aumen, College of Arts & Sciences communications, 509-335-5671,