Mediating Heritage Workshop

Mediating Heritage: The creative use and re-use of cultural inheritance. 26th September 2012

This full day workshop investigated the intersection between cultural heritage, digital technologies and the built environment emphasizing the effect of this convergence on people’s experiences of heritage. We took the position that much work is currently being done by computer scientists, artists, anthropologists and curators in academia and heritage institutions on the changing use, perception and experience of place in relation to heritage and digital technologies. However, our previous experience with interdisciplinary work suggests that different disciplines are likely to use different methodologies, have different aims and use different vocabularies. Our aim with this workshop was to bring together leading practitioners and researchers in this field to explore similarities and differences in approach and to identify gaps and overlaps that might serve as starting points for future calls for proposals. In this way we hoped to gain a broad perspective on the implications of rapid technological transformation on the dynamic experience of place and architecture and future issues that might emerge from this.

The event included presentations of research work from academia and industry showcasing projects using ubiquitous technologies to understand the changing nature and rhythm of our cities and different types of media to enhance our personal experience of objects and space. Topics included:

  • The curation of user-generated ‘born digital’ objects (Museum of London)
  • How might current library spaces evolve to support digital researchers? (British Library)
  • Effect of dissociating information and objects (Senseable Cities Lab, MIT)
  • The application of ethnographic research practices to generate a space for public reflection on intangible heritage (MyStreet films/UCL)
  • The different political logics made possible by material and digital heritage (University of Leeds)
  • Digitization as a primary tool for the management of archaeological sites (University of Kent)
  • Locative media as a means to access multiple perspectives on the city (Leeds Metropolitan University)

Several common themes and issues emerged during the workshop. Key issues related to the ways ubiquitous technologies shape our understanding of urban environments, the role of different media in shaping attachments and cultural explorations, the hidden and transparent power dynamics embedded in imagining and constructing heritage and place, the need to locate heritage in wider (economic, technological, political) power relations and questions about the possibility of meaningful impact of new design on heritage. Looking across the presentations and discussion reveals a tension between the material and the digital that permeated our conversations about objects, curation and representation, authenticity and access. In particular, the following points and questions seemed to resonate with participants:

  • What is meant by authenticity in physical and digital heritage? How do these meanings impact on issues of trust and ownership of heritage objects?
  • Who has the power to enable or deny access to the creation, presentation and editing of cultural artefacts whether material or digital?
  • The impact of funding decisions on research and the effect on researchers’ choices with regard to technology and topic.
  • The potential of digital technologies to enable enables shifts of power and effort to occur when information can be simultaneously localized and distributed.
  • It is assumed that increasingly reciprocal relationships between audience and heritage artefacts and sites enhance the heritage experience for audiences, yet this also raises issues of access and control for researchers, curators and audiences.