For many years the discipline of anthropology, specifically a synthesis of archaeology and cultural anthropology, has always captivated me. I am passionately interested in past societies and cultures and the methods which are used to present the stories to the greater public. My recent Peace Corps experience in Mali, West Africa, gave me many insights into the difficulty for rural, largely agrarian communities to preserve, and if desired, promote their cultural and material heritage both through physical cultural heritage centers and online media. In the case of Mali specifically, much of the material, archaeological cultural heritage, and the interpretations that go along with it, are in the National Museum located in the central capital city of Bamako. Rural, agrarian communities with no readily available access to transportation are often left unable to see the tangible vestiges of a great Malian Empire or the diverse archaeological landscapes spread spatially and temporally across the country. Not only that, but they have no voice in the interpretation of the history, and specifically their localized history as it pertains to them.

Through the creation of local cultural heritage centers with an online component, rural communities would then have an opportunity to not only participate in the preservation and management of their local material culture and cultural heritage, but they would be then given a voice to bring a localized interpretation to their cultural heritage and history. Physical cultural heritage centers would provide potential monetary benefit by tapping into the lucrative tourist economy. It would also provide opportunities for education on the local level, promoting the more regional cultural heritage and material archaeological culture. Using the internet as an online component to this proposed project of localized cultural heritage centers would bring a vital avenue for promotion to populations in, but especially outside, the country. Online media, specifically social media, would provide free promotional outlets for communities with no means of capital to support costly advertising campaigns. Creation of a website would allow for further opportunities of promotion, and more importantly, provide opportunities for funding through donations and other means. Digitization of material artifacts, videos and multimedia components, and the potential for online digital museums with possible virtual tours are just a few of the possibilities of what the internet could do for both promotional and educational ends. Specifically in the case of Mali, again, having an online component that could provide monetary benefit to the local community is vital seeing as cultural heritage centers in potentially rural, difficult to access communities would pose problems for a successful tourist economy if it remained solely offline.

With all this taken into consideration, I am currently studying in an applied archaeology program to learn about the dynamics and feasibility of such an enterprise. My primary and current course of study is to learn methods of sustainable cultural heritage presentation, preservation, and management to increase the localized tourist economy for interested descendant, marginalized, impoverished, rural, or otherwise disenfranchised communities with no ready access to promote their local cultural heritage and history as well as no means of preserving heritage sites.

Upon graduation I plan to put these ideas to the test and the use of the internet as a promotional and educational tool remains intrinsically associated and incredibly important to the project I propose. I hope to use my master’s degree to become proficient in methods in which to help interested communities become more active and heard in the interpretation, preservation, management, and presentation of local cultural heritage, sacred or otherwise important sites, and material culture for the benefit, first and foremost, of the local community involved. I plan to address the issue of sustainability of this proposed project through online media and internet resources that can give marginalized communities both a national and international component. Hopefully, as society transitions to be more and more active in the online realm, such a project will prove successful and beneficial for all interested and participating communities.

 

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