Learning with an Archive

Fascilitating in-person learning about the natural world, online


It seems counter-intuitive. We want to provide tools for the revitalization of outdoor learning experiences with family and community and are going about it by launching a web-based archive for multi-cultural knowledge about birds. As an anthropologist whose work has cultivated a focus on education, experience and environment, I have seen first-hand how rich and personally relevant it can be for children and youths to spend unstructured time learning out-of-doors. Long hours of participation and accompaniment with peers, adults and elders in everyday life can provide a ‘deep education’, a strong core confidence and curiosity about the world. I have known children in Rarámuri and Ayoreo communities, for example, who had the benefit of this kind of education (see Wyndham 2009, 2010).

But many children around the world today are in-between educational systems: they participate part-time in family and community knowledge traditions, part-time in standardized curricula, and part-time immersed in mass-media screenworlds. Ideologically they are exposed to the notion that “education” only refers to formal schooling, and “knowledge” is book learning (primarily from Western intellectual lineages). It is our aim to provide a bridge back to person-to-person learning about local environments by encouraging children to do first-hand research themselves, with family and community members. Yes, they’d interact to some extent with a computer or mobile screen, to see others’ contributions, upload interviews, photos and other documentation, but the important work would be done when they approach knowledge-holders in their community to ask for some time to talk about what they know about birds, language, places, and people. That is when the spark of connection to local histories, language, perspectives and philosophies may be struck for children who haven’t, for whatever reason, had the space or time to engage deeply with others about the environments around them.

Some background on the Ethno-Ornithology World Archive: The Ethnoornithology World Archive (EWA) under development at the University of Oxford in partnership with Birdlife International, will be an open-access, worldwide collection of diverse cultural material relating to birds, scheduled to launch in 2015. The archive will include folk-names, stories, songs, poems, ecological knowledge, images, artwork, and other materials developed by users, who will be able to publish their items or collections for the general public or to a restricted community of their choosing. The material will be held in a form that can be searched and collated for teaching and research purposes with ornithological, cultural, linguistic and geographic browsing options.

EWA seeks to promote the engagement of all people in bird conservation by opening a space where they can share their knowledge, language traditions and understanding of birds. A key focus will be on facilitating ways for children to use and contribute to the archive, either on their own or as part of school projects, assignments, or home-schooling research. This will immerse students in both particular learning about birds and other life forms as well as engagement with, respect for and celebration of diverse cultural traditions of knowledge. Students might, for example, collect accounts from their grandparents about how bird numbers and species have changed over their lifetime; record myths, family stories or lore about bird-human relationships; document folk names, dialect traditions and ecological relationships between birds and other life and landscape. Communities, or indeed, school-groups, can also elect to use the archive as a private or partially private space if they want to keep some aspects of their collections viewable and useable only within a defined community. Teachers around the world can access and share lesson plans that will both use the content database and create new material at various grade levels. Processes will be in place to educate users of the archive so as to implement ethical research practices, and to devolve control over cultural heritage to communities of origin.

Core objectives of EWA:
• To create a free-access, global database of culturally relevant data relating to birds.
• To develop and strengthen grassroot networks of conservationists and local people working together to engage in bird conservation in a culturally relevant way.
• To facilitate the use of local and traditional ecological knowledge in education, conservation research and practice, and to understand its significance for wellbeing and community cohesion.
• To promote research in ethno-ornithology to further understand how people engage with nature.

Central to EWA’s mission is to honor the importance of all people’s everyday experiences, interactions and knowledge of birds to the long-term success of conservation efforts, cultural and linguistic continuity and the persistence of a bioculturally-rich future world. EWA embraces the citizen science research process in which investigation is sourced among a broad populace, is simultaneously educational and engaging, and leads those involved to feel invested, responsible and empowered.

Project Partners

We invite you to become an early EWA colleague; email us at to let us know of your interests, and we’ll put you on our list to receive news and updates as the project develops. Visit us at for more background on the founders and associated projects of EWA, and to keep abreast of our launch date.