PEOPLE-CENTRED DIGITAL HERITAGE
About the session:
How can people-centred participatory approaches contribute to digital heritage practice and visa versa? How can digital technologies be used by heritage professionals and community stakeholders to co-create heritage futures?
Session organisers: Stuart Jeffry & Sian Jones (Glasgow School of Art/Stirling Uni)
Anders Olsson is a cultural heritage professional that has extensively worked with digital heritage issues in various forms since approximately 2005.
1. Kulturminnesok.no – a participatory cultural heritage site
This presentation aims to give an overview of kulturminnesok.no and discuss the key functionality as well as the perceived benefits of the site in context of a distributed and collaborative documentation and dissemination of digital cultural heritage. It also tries to discuss a way forward for the site and its core concepts regarding added value, both in the context of the users and communities that are participating, as well as in relationship to the Directorate of Cultural Heritage and the broader cultural heritage management community.
Kulturminnesok.no is a website and a long-term project from the Directorate of Cultural Heritage in Norway. It was launched in 2009 in connection with the Norwegian Year of Cultural Heritage. Its main goal is dissemination of Cultural Heritage to the general public. It shows a subset of the information from the approximately 190.000 objects that is stored in Askeladden, the official and nationwide database for Cultural Heritage in Norway, as well as thousands of photos of these objects from the Directorate of Cultural Heritage´s photo-database. In addition to this the site also allows the general public to participate and register their own content in the form of user-generated Heritage objects, or upload photos on all kinds of objects as well as post comments and links. Since 2012 when the functionality for user-generated content was established, the site´s users have contributed with approximately 10.000 user-generated Heritage objects, 30.000 user-uploaded photos and hundreds of comments and links to other digital resources.
Laura Gibson gained her PhD in Digital Humanities from King’s College London in 2018 with a thesis that investigates decolonising cultural heritage in the digital age, with a specific focus on South African museums.
2. Potential for digital technologies to challenge deeply embedded colonial narratives and terminologies in South African museums
Using historical and anthropological approaches, this paper focusses on the potential for digital technologies to challenge deeply embedded colonial narratives and terminologies in South African museums. It draws on findings developed during a series of collaborative workshops with Zulu-speaking community members, conducted between 2016 – 2019. The seven workshops considered items held at the Iziko Museums of South Africa, specifically a collection of nearly one thousand items classified as Natal Nguni, or Zulu, during the colonial periods. This collection reflects colonial ideas about which items were worth collecting and whose knowledge was considered sufficiently valuable when cataloguing items. During the initial workshops, I encountered stark differences between the information colonial collectors valued and the values attributed to items and information by the communities. Our discussions also revealed other ‘on the ground realities’ that make it more challenging for this descendant community to engage meaningfully with digitised versions of this heritage: unreliable infrastructures in more rural areas; prohibitively high data costs; and literacy and language issues.
The final three-day workshop at Iziko Museum was an attempt to tackle these combined challenges. While the workshop emphasised the process and practice of developing alternative narratives, a tangible outcome was a simple digital tool, a Museum in a Box. Centred around a Raspberry Pi computer, it works with Near-field communication tags attached to postcard images or 3D prints of artefacts. When the tag contacts the shoebox-size Box, the artefact it is attached to starts “talking,” giving the oral history through the Box’s built-in speaker. The process of producing the Box—participants identifying artefacts that resonate for them, recording the oral histories they produce about the artefacts, photographing and 3D printing their selected artefacts—not only captured important and accessible data for the long-term, but also reiterated the fact that the Zulu-speaking partners are experts in the knowledge production process by taking seriously their choices and stories.
3. Co-producing exclusive heritage online
This paper will examine the impact that social media platforms and, particularly, Facebook and Twitter, are having on the co-production of narratives that draw on the ancient past in order to exclude others and create divisive forms of heritage.
What are the networks through which these processes take place? What human subjects are involved and central and who is marginal? How is ‘expert’ knowledge selected, utilised and rehashed? I will address these questions through research undertaken as part of the Ancient Identities in Modern Britain project, a collaboration between the University of Durham and Stirling (AHRC, 2016-2019). I will present and discuss the outcomes of quantitative and qualitative analysis of social media data expressing intolerance towards culturally, economically and ethnically defined ‘others’ in Europe and the US.
Assistant professor in the Interuniversity Department of Regional and Urban Studies and Planning in the University in Politecnico di Torino.
4. Activist Heritage Tools: Digital Humanities to Understand Alternative Heritage Regimes in Urban Historic Settings
Since the 1980s, a bulk of academic studies manifested how cultural heritage is strongly linked to societal relations and serves the ruling elite for nation-making, redefining the past, and managing the memories of the members of the society. These studies also showed that management of cultural heritage helps power holders sustain their power and redefine the past for the service of present through cultural heritage. However, if power holders are using cultural heritage to control the past, following the very same suggestion, it is possible to argue that opposition against power may also have its own heritage management regimes. This paper suggests that forms of resistance and activism against power holders may formulate alternative engagements with past, which I call ‘activist heritage tools (AHT)’.
Compared to official heritage tools, which can be studied through national/local inventories and listing, registrations, expert committee archives and decisions, official history, etc., AHT are much more difficult to detect, define, investigate, document, and assess. For this reason, digital tools are imperative for the study of AHT since such a study requires an investigation of various power dynamics among diverse actors historically contextualizing the political developments in order to understand how (and if) activist movements generated a form of AHT. Therefore, the paper focuses on urban historic settings where activist approaches are easier to observe.
Even though this paper does not focus on the impact of digitized and/or born-digital heritage on the management of heritage (as requested by the session), I suggest that it is suitable for the session four because it shows that digital tools help us reveal AHT and guide us imagine new democratic heritage regimes based on past experiences.