Developing a Common Language Around Cultural Appropriation

For more than 50 years, the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC) has been a destination for those passionate about global textile traditions. And for the past five years, the collection has been the foundation of a curriculum that seeks to help those visitors understand the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The collection serves a wide range of researchers and community members as well as scores of UW–Madison students.

Many of these students, especially those in art and design-related majors, turn to our collection for “design inspiration.” While students have likely learned how to responsibly quote and cite written materials, they do not necessarily know how to navigate the power dynamics inherent to the study of diverse cultural materials. Indeed, the CDMC staff realized that students lacked a framework for engaging with diverse cultural materials.

In an effort to support these students and faculty, the CDMC started what has become the “From Cultural Appropriation to Cultural Appreciation” curriculum in the 2018-2019 academic year. Over several years of iteration, pilots, and initial evaluation, hundreds of participants have experienced the curriculum–primarily through invited sessions within university classes and special workshops for community groups and professional colleagues. In 2023, we turned our focus to evaluating this pilot in preparation for sharing this curriculum more widely. The team leading this project is purposefully diverse, composed of Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaborators as well as UW faculty, staff, and graduate students. This work has been generously supported by the School of Human Ecology’s Equity and Justice Network and the Indigenous EcoWell Initiative.

Our cultural appropriation curriculum offers collection-based case studies in which participants practice engaging with the three key themes: ownership, power, and impact. As visitors look to our collection for inspiration, we want to facilitate meaningful, respectful, and transparent interactions with the objects we care for and the cultures and communities from which they originate.

photograph of a red embroidered shirt with shirt sleeves and black across the top
Mola blouse, Unknown Guna artist, 1930, Panama, E.A.CA.0059, Photo by Dakota Mace
photograph of 6 quilt squares on a blue background
Quilting fabric, Pago, Inc.(manufacturer), 1977, United States of America, P.D.US.1648, Photo by Dakota Mace

Land Acknowledgement

The University of Wisconsin–Madison occupies ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place their nation has called Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemorial. In an 1832 treaty, the Ho-Chunk were forced to cede this territory. Decades of ethnic cleansing followed when both the federal and state government repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought to forcibly remove the Ho-Chunk from Wisconsin. This history of colonization informs our shared future of collaboration and innovation. Today, UW–Madison respects the inherent sovereignty of the Ho-Chunk Nation, along with the eleven other First Nations of Wisconsin.

Educational Resources

IPinCHIntellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage: Theory, Practice, Policy, Ethics 

Native AppropriationsDr. Adrienne Keene 

Think Before You AppropriateSimon Fraser University

References

“Think Before You Appropriate”, Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH), 2008-2016

Scafidi, Susan, Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Our Team

Sarah Anne Carter

Position title: Executive Director; Associate Professor in Design Studies

Carolyn H. Jenkinson

Position title: Collections Manager

Dakota Mace

Position title: Photographer

Carolee Dodge Francis

Position title: Ecology of Human Well-Being Professor; Department Chair

With Gratitude for

School of Human Ecology Indigenous Ecowell Initiative

The Equity & Justice Network of the School of Human Ecology at UW-Madison  

Professor Carolee Dodge Francis & Joseph Jean, PhD Student, SoHE, UW-Madison, for their evaluation.

Get Involved

We currently offer our workshop to UW classes and community partners by appointment. If you are interested in learning more about hosting a workshop or additional educational materials, please contact us at cdmc@sohe.wisc.edu.

Past Curriculum Developers

Joseph Jean, PhD Student, Civil Society & Community Studies, UW–Madison

Addison Nace, PhD  Student, Design Studies, UW–Madison (2019-2022)

Emily Schindler,  Ph.D. (2018-2019)

logo for the Indigenous Ecowell Initiative