Debates about ownership, protection and nation-states pervade the museum industry in the early twenty-first century, played out in discussion over the Elgin Marbles, the trade in antiquities, repatriation of Indigenous artefacts and histories of race and nation. In Australia, where the antiquities issue is less highly charged, museums have become acutely aware of the connections between their cultural collections and living indigenous communities from which they originated.
The Virtual Museum of the Pacific (VMP) is a social media platform for a Digital Ecosystem, which enables a variety of user communities to engage with the Pacific Collection of the Australian Museum. The success of the system depends on facilitating the development of culturally relevant folksonomies and encouraging a conversation between on-line communities. In this paper we explore the relationships between stakeholders, folksonomy and taxonomy, to reveal the design strategies which inform this digital ecosystem. Our analysis defines the scope for the social tagging component of our information model and discusses how users might interact with objects in terms of their knowledge base and also contribute to ongoing taxonomic definitions. Given its capacity to span both collection and management and community access issues, we contend that the Virtual Museum of the Pacific is a significant model for online community interaction, as well as notions of power and authority in the contemporary museum environment. The VMP addresses issues of restitution, particularly visual and knowledge restitution, and offers innovative ways to establish networks of knowledge between source communities and other user communities such as museum staff, independent researchers, scholars, students etc.
The Virtual Museum of the Pacific is part of an Australian Research Council Linkage project between the Australian Museum (Vinod Daniel, Melanie Van Olffen, Dion Peita) and the University of Wollongong (Prof Amanda Lawson, Prof Peter Eklund, Dr Peter Goodall, Associate Professor Brogan Bunt, Tim Wray).