Digital Horizons, Virtual Selves - Research Center for Material Culture
22 January 2016

Digital Horizons, Virtual Selves: Rethinking Cultural Heritage in the Museum

Conference | 21-22 Jan 2016 | RCMC

How should museums remember the digital age? This conference brings together curators and theorists to share and explore approaches towards researching, collecting and displaying digital heritage in the ethnographic museum.

Rethinking Cultural Heritage in the Museum

In the past two decades digital technologies have become omnipresent in the museum. They have changed the ways museums document, preserve, make accessible and present cultural heritage. Ethnographic museums follow this trend: they have embraced digital technologies as tools for engaging the public, for cataloguing and disseminating knowledge about their collections and for democratizing knowledge production. However, scant attention has been given by these museums to thinking about digital technologies as cultural objects and practices in their own rights. Ethnographic museums have in many ways ignored the influence of the digital on cultural dynamics and practices as well as the subjectivities associated with these practices. One of the reasons is the pre-occupation with material authenticity, aura and originality – presumably values that the digital lacks ­– which has prevented digital objects to attain the status of cultural artifacts worthy of a place in museum collections. As a consequence digital heritage is not yet part of the research, exhibition and collecting agendas of these museums. This conference aims to open up a space to create new definitions and roles for digital objects in the museum, to study the artistic, social, cultural and political aspects of digital practices and to explore possibilities for collecting and preserving digital cultures for the future.

Invited speakers will examine questions such as:

  • How can ethnographic museums reflect on the impact of digital technologies on identity, culture and society?
  • Should the ethnographic museum offer a memory space for digital practices and objects, and if so which of those could be of interest?
  • How might the study of digital cultural practices enable new perspectives on collections held by (ethnographic) museums? How might the acquisition of digital objects challenge what we understand (ethnographic) museum objects, and associated concepts of material authenticity, originality and aura, to be?
  • To what extent do digital technologies enable a rethinking of the foundational principles and practices of ethnographic museums and their colonial past?

The conference will be divided into three sessions:

Session 1: How Digital Technologies Shape the Museum

This session will focus on the ways in which digital technologies are transforming institutional cultures, methods, and knowledge creation in museums. How might the acquisition of digital objects and practices challenge conventional memory and representation processes within museums? What is their relationship with material objects? How can we start thinking of digital heritage as creative works and historical documents that have their own materiality? 

Session 2: Digital Politics

This session will focus on the influence of social media in protest movements and how digital activism can be preserved for future generations. What would be essential to collect and preserve, in particular within the context of the ethnographic museum? What capacity do digital technologies bring to change power relations both inside and outside the museum?

Session 3: Digital Subjectivities, Cultural Memory and Virtual Worlds

This session will focus on the ways in which cultural and political subjectivities are being transformed, produced and represented through digital technologies, in both virtual and offline worlds. How might the study of digital cultures change our understandings of citizenship, cultural identity, locality and borders? How does the digital influence the way we perceive and communicate with the world around us? How does the digital affect our understanding of cultural memory?

Confirmed participants include:

  • Bart Barendregt (Leiden University)
  • Victoria Bernal (University of California, Irvine)
  • Robin Boast (University of Amsterdam)
  • Mark Daniels (New Media Scotland, Alt-w Fund)
  • Annet Dekker (London South Bank University & The Photographers’ Gallery, Piet Zwart Institute)
  • Tjarda de Haan (Amsterdam Museum, Bits and Bytes United)
  • Katja Kwastek (VU University Amsterdam)
  • Jessica De Largy Healy (Musée du quai Branly, Paris)
  • Deirdre McKay (University Keele)
  • Golrokh Nafisi (Independent visual artist)
  • Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam)
  • Anna Reading (King's College, London)
  • Mirko Schäfer (Utrecht University)
  • Stephan Schwingeler (ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe)

Watch all lectures of the conference Digital Heritage, Virtual Selves on the RCMC YouTube channel.

Mondriaan Fund