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The Burke Museum Ethnology Department actively encourages research on all of its collections. The Ethnology Department houses two seperate collections:

Ethnology Object Collection: Objects of cultural heritage from living cultures of the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and Asia.

Ethnology Archives: Historical documents and photographs related to the object collection.

In addition, the collection of Bill Holm and Robin Wright's research slides is searchable at: Holm/Wright Slides. This collection features images of Native American art objects from the Pacific Northwest Coast held in other (non-Burke) museum collections

Interested researchers should contact Rebecca Andrews, Ethnology Collection Manager, to obtain information on available collections, the research process, and to schedule an appointment to discuss an individual research plan.

All researchers must first complete a Research Request form detailing their project and agree to all listed conditions of access. A one-page description of the proposed research must also be submitted along with the Research Request form.

Explore Ethnology Collection


Research Publications


Past and Current Research Projects

Graduate Student Research

Ainu delegation
Ainu delegation

Carrying Traditions Across the Waters of Time: Ainu and Pacific Northwest Cultural Collaborations

"Carrying Traditions Across the Waters of Time: Ainu and Pacific Northwest Cultural Collaborations," was a partnership between the Hokkaido Ainu Center (Hokkaido Ainu Association) and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in 2009-2010. Deana Dartt-Newton, then Curator of Native American Ethnology at the Burke Museum, was the lead project manager for this collaboration project. The central focus of the project was shared efforts to revive ancient relationships to the sea and the canoe. The participants included members of the Suquamish, Duwamish, Tulalip, Makah, and Squaxin Island tribes and the Hokkaido Ainu Association.

This program engaged participants in dialogue through their participation in Northwest canoe events, broadened public awareness of global environmental and social issues faced by Native peoples, and provided both communities with insight into museum practices in a tribal or inter-tribal setting.

Three international visits were conducted to ensure these goals were met. A delegation from the Ainu Association visited Washington State for one week in December 2009 for initial meetings and discussions with each tribe and tours of their tribal museums. In March 2010, a delegation of tribal representatives traveled to Japan to visit Ainu museums and communities and continued the dialogues begun earlier. Finally, in July 2010, an Ainu group returned to Washington and participated in the canoe journey that was hosted that year by the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay.

Skidegate Haida House Models and Poles 

Since 2001, Robin K. Wright has been researching the set of Skidegate Haida house and pole models made in 1892 for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Twenty-nine model houses, most with frontal poles, and 16 free-standing model poles were commissioned by James Deans for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. This is a collaborative project with the Skidegate Haida community, the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kaay'llnagaay, Haida Gwaii, B. C. This research has been partially funded by the UW Royalty Research Fund, Canadian Embassy Senior Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, and UW College of Arts and Sciences.

Thirteen of the model houses are now missing from several museum collections, and she is searching for them, with the goal of bringing them back together for the first time in over 100 years, and developing a travelling exhibit that would open at the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kaay'llnagaay. 

Learn more about this project and help us find the missing house models by going to the project website.

Skidegate House Models
Skidegate House Models

The Kwakiutl of British Columbia
The Kwakiutl of British Columbia, a Documentary by Franz Boas (1930)

Fieldnotes from Fort Rupert: Studies of Kwakiutl Song, Dance and Movement by Franz Boas

Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse is working on a project focusing on film and sound recordings made by Franz Boas in 1930 in the Kwakwaka'wakw village of Fort Rupert. Her intent is to republish and recontextualize this little-known but unique cultural document through University of Washington Press. The release of the film and audio on a DVD within a volume of essays will remedy both scholarly misconceptions about the film and issues of aboriginal and academic accessibility. This project aims to redress colonial histories of anthropological takings by ensuring that the community of origin has access to and copies of all archival material as well as an active part in shaping the final publication.

Close collaboration with descendants of the film's participants in the Kwagiulth community—through advising, recorded interviews, and contemporary dances performances (some revived due to this film footage), as well as the accompanying historical research—will insure that the new presentation of the 1930 material will not reinscribe outdated approaches of salvage anthropology but will underline thecontinuing cultural practice of the current generation of Kwakwaka'wakw. 

Intercultural Exchange in Colonial California

In California, social science curriculum standards mandate an introduction to Native American life and the impacts of Spanish, Mexican, and "American" colonization on the state's indigenous people. Teachers in the state use museums to supplement this education. While Natural history and anthropology museums offer programs for teaching third graders about Native pre-contact life, Mission museums are charged with telling the story of settlement for the state's fourth graders. These sites portray a glorified mission experience and essentialized, homogeneous notions of Indian identity and rarely address hardships experienced by Native people during and beyond the Mission era.

Building upon her research of Franciscan Mission museums (and their web based counter-parts), Curator Deana Dartt-Newton envisioned a Virtual Mission Museum Website that offers fourth grade students (and others, of course) an alternative glimpse of Indian life in the missions. Using digital storytelling as the means of gathering information from California Tribal groups, as well as Native web designers developed a rich, informative, multisensory experience to engage audiences in learning history from a cultural group often forgotten in the Mission museum narratives.

This project aimed to involve the Information School and the Museology Department, as well as the Native Voices Film Program at the University of Washington, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, and other bands of Mission Indians in California.

Deana Dartt-Newton
Deana Dartt-Newton (center) leads a tour of the church at Mission San Lius Rey, Oceanside, CA.

Rebecca Andrews speaks to Mongolian museum professionals
Rebecca Andrews speaks to Mongolian museum professionals

Mongolia Outreach

In September 2009, collections manager Rebecca Andrews traveled to Mongolia with a Burke team to conduct museum training workshops. The workshops were held in Ulaan Baatar, the capital, and down in the Gobi desert, at Mandalgov. Andrews gave a power point talk and hands-on training about archival storage materials and the tools necessary to use them. Since the majority of participants did not speak English, the presentations had to be simple yet comprehensive. Andrews also had a chance to go shopping in the black market in Ulaan Baatar to acquire contemporary objects for the permanent collections. The traditional attire for both men and women was purchased with distributed interest from the Ethnology Acquisitions Endowment. The attire consists of a long coat called a del, worn with a waist sash, hat and tall leather boots. The trip to the central Gobi desert was a fascinating 7 hour van ride over bumpy dusty dirt roads, and was rewarding for a number of reasons: wild camels, antelope, ger camps (yurts), and beautiful scenery.

Graduate Research

Nadia Jackinsky-Horrell

Nadia Jackinsky received a two-quarter fellowship to support her Ph.D. dissertation research on the revival of masking in indigenous communities in Alaska, including the Yup'ik and Alutiiq communities on the Kodiak Island archipelago, the Chugach region, and Southwestern Alaska.

Jackinsky's doctoral research revolves around the study of cultural revitalization movements among Alaska Native artists and craftsmen and women looking particularly at the use of art as a vehicle to sustain cultural identity. She combines studies of Alaska Native culture from a historical and an ethnographic perspective. Some of her research involves fieldwork in communities where she interviews artists. Other components include participation in carving workshops, culture camps, and community archaeology. An additional element of her research is archival — studying records that explain social and political changes that shape Alaska Native history — and includes research in museum collections to understand specific stylistic traits of art objects from the diverse culture groups around Alaska. Themes under consideration include: the global indigenous revitalization movement and how the Alaska Native cultural revitalization movement compares with it, Alaska Native women's involvement in revitalization efforts, the Alaska Native youth movement in revitalization, and how non-Native forces are shaping cultural revitilization.

Last month, Nadia read a paper on her research entitled, "Are you going to sit here and watch, or are you going to pick up a knife and start carving?" at the Native American Art Studies Association conference in Norman, Oklahoma.

Nadia Jackinsky-Horrell
Nadia Jackinsky-Horrell

Anna Hoover poses with one of her mixed media pieces entitled “Skin of the Earth
Anna Hoover poses with one of her mixed media pieces entitled “Skin of the Earth"

Anna Hoover

Anna Hoover received a fall quarter fellowship in 2009, for her master's degree project. This project is centered on planning an exhibition of art focusing awareness on a proposed open pit mine, the Pebble Mine, in southwestern Alaska near the headwaters of the world's largest remaining sockeye salmon run. Bristol Bay and its contributing rivers are home to tens of millions of salmon. Salmon use their sense of smell to find their way back to the stream where they were born, and even the smallest amount of copper leached into the river systems surrounding the Pebble site would confuse them to the point of extinction. In addition to an exhibit of contemporary Alaska Native art, the project includes public programming: a Film Festival, a panel on environmental and health effects of the mine, and a photography component that will show the landscape of the area and the people who occupy it, forming an intimate and personal relationship between the audience and this place.