A Journey Through Inuit Oral Traditions: Website Review of Listening to Our Past

Listening to Our Past explores the rich cultural heritage of the people of Nunavut.  The website was created by Nunavut Arctic College and l’Association des francophones du Nunavut.  The site aims to present history recorded though oral traditions and oral histories told by Nunavut elders.  The site is tri-lingual and material is available in English, French, and Inuktitut.

Navigation Map

When first visiting the site users are presented with snippets of Nunavut history in pictorial and audio form.  The main method of navigating the site is through a pictorial mind map.  Each image  highlights a particular topic in the history of Nunavut.  Topics include child rearing practices, dream interpretation, traveling and surviving our land, and other themes which focus on the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Inuit people. The use of an imaged based menu contributes to the site’s simplified navigation and has the potential to show a glimpse into a topic in a way that a text based title cannot.

Upon selecting which thematic section of the site, the user is brought to a page which provides them multiple ways to explore the selected topic. These methods of exploration include short summaries, a complete transcript, quotations, pictorially, video, animation, and audio clips.  All of these methods emphasize the importance of oral tradition over the written word.

The audio clips of elders speaking about their past is particularly powerful and was the method which I found to be the most representative of the oral histories that the website aims to present.  However, the site is lacking the ability for users to navigate within a audio clip. The audio clips begin automatically and users cannot fast-forward or rewind the audio clip.  This is particularly frustrating if you didn’t hear a portion clearly or if you would like to replay a particularly interesting segment.

The ability to navigate within the individual oral histories is accommodated to a greater level within the textual transcripts of the interviews.  The textual representations of the oral histories are presented as a separate portion of the website and as pdfs.  The text based portion of the site breaks down the oral history themes into smaller sub-topics.  For example, the Perspectives on Traditional Health section is divided into the following sub-sections:

This textual representation of the oral histories is easier to navigate if you are looking for information on a specific topic.  It is also useful if you do not have the time to devote to listening to the complete audio recordings.  This portion of the site has a more academic feel and is organized in a way that is more common to research based sites.   However, this component of the site does not have the same level of interactivity and feeling of exploration that the pictorial navigation map does.

Listening to Our Past provides an abundance of great content in a variety of mediums.  There is room for improvement in terms of navigation within individual selections of content.  The site would be more cohesive if an effort was put into combining traditional methods of presenting information with interactive tools.  Despite this lack of cohesion, Listening to Our Past, successfully presents previously unavailable material about the heritage of Nunavut’s Inuit peoples in an accessible and forward thinking way.

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One thought on “A Journey Through Inuit Oral Traditions: Website Review of Listening to Our Past

  1. paul thibodeau

    Many years ago I was researching Charles Francis Hall and found evidence of the Inuit oral history story of fobisher Expedition was it ever followed up on.???

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