Project IRENE uses an innovative technique of non-contact optical scanning to create digital versions of audio recorded on the nearly 3000 wax cylinders in the Hearst Museum collection over a total of three years. These cylinders were recorded in the field by UC Anthropologists under the direction of Alfred Kroeber between 1900 and 1940. They recorded Native Californians from many regions and cultures speaking and singing; reciting histories, narratives and prayers, listing names for places and objects among many other things, all in a wide variety of languages. Many of the languages recorded on the cylinders have transformed, fallen out of use, or are no longer spoken at all, making this collection a unique and invaluable resource for linguists and contemporary community members hoping to learn about or revitalize languages, or retrieve important pieces of cultural heritage.
Project IRENE at UC Berkeley is a collaborative effort, funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation, with team members from the UC Berkeley Linguistics Department, UC Library, Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and the particle physics division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.