For over fifty years, UCLA professors worked with teams of students to document healing practices from around the world. The source materials included archival holdings, published books, fieldnotes from anthropologists and folklorists, and materials provided by students in classes at UCLA. That work was directed by Dr. Wayland Hand (March 19, 1907 – October 22, 1986). In 1996, the project was taken over by another folklorist, Dr Michael Owen Jones, who received a grant to digitize the work performed by Dr. Hand and put the data into a searchable database. That database, named the Archive of Traditional Medicine, was a fully functioning website, though it sat without much notice or investment of energy after Dr. Owen’s retirement in 2007.
In after five years of sitting dormant, except for a few libraries who knew how to find it on-line, Dr. David Delgado Shorter received a call asking if he thought the site should be permanently deleted from the UCLA Library’s servers, as they were attempting to streamline their site management process. Seeing its potential, Dr. Shorter saw multiple benefits in keeping the site active: as the case study of a cross-campus initiative to bring students from multiple disciplines together into a classroom to learn about digital curating; as a tool for students to learn about healing practices around the globe; and as a database for healers to draw from in their own practice and studies about cures and rituals. Dr. Shorter collaborated with a programmer on four previous digital publications and saw the site’s potential in several classroom environments within Anthropology and Digital Humanities.
As a result of his work on the Wiki for Indigenous Languages, Dr. Shorter was also keenly aware that this data in the Archive was not neutral and free-floating: it had been taken from somewhere, in some manner, and for some purpose that must be aligned with the rights, views, conceptions and needs of the communities that provided the data. The task was not going to be easy. The challenge itself seemed worthy of the effort: Could and should an archive of this material be possible?
Dr. Shorter began the process of re-imagining (renaming, reformatting, and revitalizing) the Archive of Traditional Medicine. Since “healing” is a facet of so many disciplinary foci (anatomy, physiology, Psychology, Anthropology, Disability Studies, etc.), and because “health” can have such a wide variety of meanings (mental, physical, spiritual, psychological, individual, and community, etc.), Dr. Shorter believes this particular database serves as the perfect nexus for pedagogical innovation. He changed the name to Archive of Healing™. He created a new class at UCLA, in the World Arts and Cultures and Gender Studies departments, that centered around a central question: How would a group of students deepen their interdisciplinary studies of healing by being in conversation not only with other students across campus studying health, but by also reshaping a website in conversation with a web designer and digital humanities scholar, Dr. Shorter, programmer Michael Lynch, who has built similar sites, and additional leaders from the often disparate disciplinary approaches to studying health? This project would be built upon the preliminary work, in a hybrid pedagogy, in order to create exciting transdisciplinary learning environments. Over three years, students explored the tensions and promise of digital technology as they collectively addressed issues of intellectual property rights, data management, sustainability, security, user interface design, and public engagement. During this time, we had many deep discussions about the feasibility, functionality, and the ethical practices of the site. We kept coming back to some central theories about the Archive of Healing™.
The Archive of Healing™
- should highlight, rather than erase, Indigenous contributions to knowledge about healing;
- should treat the data not as property, so cannot be possessed nor owned; but as practical knowledge that should be withheld or shared in specific contexts best decided by knowledge-bearers;
- should treat the knowledge in the Archive as a type of power, and the distribution of power must be inclusive and equal; access requires responsibility to maintain access;
- should treat health as a social goal with social methods that affirm relationality and kinship;
- could provide multiple uses to multiple communities: students, healers, those seeking wellness, researchers, scholars, librarians, and others;
- should remain mindful of the historical exclusion of women and other marginalized populations from their central role in medical and healing fields, as well as the structural inequalities that keep them outside of certifying organizations;
- should work as a corrective to a previous era of unfettered salvage ethnography by circulating any profits (from subscriptions, licensing agreements, investments, student labor) back to the communities where the knowledge was long-held;
- should provide peoples and communities of need access to healing and wellness outside of often expensive allopathic and pharmaceutical approaches, and not as alternatives but as complimentary modalities;
- should accentuate the democratization of knowledge using technology and other means when such sharing does not further structures of inequality between those who can and cannot access such technology.