Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology opens collection of 3.8 million items to public via online portal

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Amanda Ramirez/Staff

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Updated 5/20/2018:  This article has been updated to include a link of the portal. 

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology has opened its collection of more than 3.8 million objects to the public through an online portal as of May 10.

The wide variety of items available for viewing in the online Hearst Museum Portal include objects, films and photographs, and they are accompanied by documentation and information on them, according to the museum’s press release. The process of digitizing the museum’s collections took two years, with staff and volunteers taking about 2,000 photos per week to upload to the portal.

“This is such a great example of how we are using technology to open up our collections to the world,” said Jenn Stringer, assistant vice chancellor for teaching and learning, in an email. “That includes enabling research from elementary school to the community scholar. It also supports researchers who are unable to travel to this country and it enables scholars to be more efficient with their time once they get here.”

The museum has decided to restrict access to some of its objects, such as human remains, funerary objects and charm stones, following guidance from the museum’s Native American Advisory Council, according to the press release. Researchers can access these objects with permission from the museum.

The press release stated that the museum intends that the portal be used as a resource for those with ties to societies represented in the collections. The collection contains artifacts from Native Californian, Alaskan, ancient Egyptian, African, Mexican and Central American peoples, along with numerous other cultures.

The development of the portal project was led by Michael Black, the museum’s head of research and information, with help from students, museum staff and community members. For example, Alexandra Perkins, a campus freshman studying anthropology, provided input on the portal’s interface, suggesting a “more approachable” search bar rather than a multifield search bar.

“I think it’s an incredible tool for both those who casually want to see what kind of Egyptian artifacts we have, and those who want to examine chipped chert projectile points from Inyo County,” Perkins said in an email.

Perkins added that there are “lots of neat features,” such as graphs showing the years the objects were collected.

Campus alumna Ashley Jerbic, who graduated with a double major in art practice and art history, contributed to the portal project by constructing 3D models of ancient Egyptian sarcophagi and mummies using a program called PhotoScan. She worked on the project with Rita Lucarelli, an assistant professor of Egyptology, from 2015 to 2016.

“We are pleased to serve as a resource for Native California across a variety of research areas,” said Jordan Jacobs, the museum’s head of cultural policy and repatriation, in the press release. “The portal will greatly expand that access.”

Contact Cade Johnson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.