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November 13, 2012

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History Center Digitizes, Makes Public its Edward H. Davis Collection of Indian Photographs and Drawings 

Grant-funded project connects Indians of today to their past, provides record for future

San Diego, Calif.—San Diego History Center (SDHC) has completed work on an 18-month, grant-funded project enhancing access to the Edward H. Davis Collection of Indian Photographs and Drawings with the addition of nearly 5,700 online images and records. This newly digitized collection is now viewable to the public through San Diego History Center’s web site: www.sandiegohistory.org/davis/collection. 

Edward Davis, a long-time resident of Mesa Grande, documented the life of the Indians of San Diego County, the Southwest, and parts of Mexico, from the early 1900s – 1940s. Through photography, drawing, writing, and the collection of objects such as baskets, mortars, metates, bows, arrows, stone implements, and more, Davis compiled a unique record of that time period in the West. Davis’ efforts also gained notice on the East Coast and in 1917 he was hired as a field collector by the Museum of the American Indian (now part of the Smithsonian).

“This is a particularly significant project both because of its breadth and also its depth,” said SDHC’s grant project manager, Therese Chung. “Davis documented the same groups for decades, in a variety of mediums, recording not just the day-to-day, but also the many changes that occurred in their way of life. An entire range of experiences, from the everyday to the ceremonial, are preserved in his work.”A primary goal of the project was to work with the San Diego Indian community to gather information and to gain a clearer understanding of the content and significance of each image.

Tribal members attended community meetings which were held in Barona, Santa Ysabel, Viejas, Ewiiaapaayp, Pala, and Rincon. Images were presented to attendees who could then share information or memories about the locations, people, and items pictured. As a way to continue collecting information, there is a comments section at the bottom of each online record which allows viewers to post additional information if desired.“Working closely with the tribes was a valuable experience for all the members of our team,” said Chris Travers, Director of the Photograph Collection and Project Director. “Over the course of the project we formed good relationships with so many tribal members. Together we were able to create this important database which will be extremely useful to the Indian community, researchers, scholars, and schoolchildren.”

Throughout the project, the San Diego History Center also worked cooperatively with an Indian Advisory Committee which was comprised of members of different tribes who provided invaluable guidance. In addition, scholars of Native American Studies worked to identify individuals, ceremonies, places and artifacts that appear in the Davis images.

“This project is an asset to members of the tribal community,” said Larry Banegas, community liaison for the Davis project. “Younger people are more likely to get their information online so this helps to nurture that connection to the past within them.”

The Edward H. Davis cataloging project was largely funded by a Museums for America grant awarded by the Institute of Museums and Library Services.

Additional funding was provided by the Wells Fargo Foundation. Project partner Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC) created the online database and supplied technical support over the course of the project.”The Davis Collection project fits so well into BPOC’s mission to support the Park’s museums by implementing digital technologies that provide community access and engagement to their rich collections,” said Christina DePaolo, Director of Digital Media at BPOC.  “This is a collection that would never be available online if not for the IMLS grant that made the partnership possible and funded the labor-intensive work that goes into putting collections online.”

San Diego History Center, which also operates the Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park, is dedicated to helping people of all ages learn about, and enjoy, the history of San Diego, and to appreciate how our past, present, and future are interrelated. The History Center was founded in 1928 and is one of the oldest and largest historical organizations in California. It is one of only a handful of institutions nationwide that is dedicated to celebrating the heritage of a major American city. 
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