Museums and the Web 2005
Demonstrations: Description
Photo Credits

See museum applications demonstrated by the people who created them.

Lakota Winter Counts

Robert Leopold, National Anthropological Archives, USA

Demonstration: Demonstrations - Session 2

The Lakota marked the passage of time by drawing pictures of memorable events on calendars known as winter counts. The Lakota call them waniyetu wowapi. Waniyetu is the word for year, which is measured from first snowfall to first snowfall. It is often translated as "a winter." Wowapi means anything that is marked on a flat surface and can be read or counted, such as a book, a letter, or a drawing.

This online exhibit features a searchable database of winter count images from the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives and National Museum of the American Indian. It was created in response to requests from Lakota educators and community members to make primary source materials in Smithsonian collections available online for Lakota researching their cultural heritage. The image database allows online researchers to visually compare how Lakota winter count keepers depicted key events from 1701 to 1905. One of those events, The Year the Stars Fell, was widely known to non-Lakota people as the Leonid meteor storm of November 1833. Smithsonian scholar Garrick Mallery used this event to correlate the Lakota winter counts with the Western calendar.

The commentary that accompanies the individual winter count years in the database was provided by Lakota winter count keepers whose words are faithfully presented as primary sources. Researchers can perform keyword searches for their commentary or search by pre-selected topics such as ceremonies, health, plants and animals. In both cases, the results of searches are displayed as chronologically arranged images to indicate the prevalence of certain themes or events (such as illness or warfare) over time.

Video interviews with Lakota men and women with personal connections to the winter-count-keeping tradition provide another rich body of primary source material, offering contemporary perspectives on winter counts and Lakota history. They illustrate the range of knowledge still held about winter counts and the diversity of perspectives about their meaning. The interviews are accompanied by photographs chosen or provided by the speakers themselves. In addition to these historic and contemporary primary materials, the online exhibit provides general information on Lakota culture and history through motion graphics, an audio glossary, and a teachers guide.

The online exhibit was sponsored by the Smithsonian Women's Committee, the Dakota Indian Foundation, and the South Dakota Humanities Council, and developed by Invioni Web Strategy & Design.