A panel of three papers:
mbira: a platform to build, serve, and sustain mobile heritage experiences
The spaces we inhabit and interact with on a daily basis are made up of layers of cultural activity that are, quite literally, built up over time. While museum exhibits, archaeological narratives, and public archaeology programs communicate this heritage, they do not generally allow for interactive, place-based, and individually driven exploration by the public. In recent years, mobile and augmented reality applications have offered both platforms and models for mobile heritage experiences that partially address these issue. Unfortunately, the bar for developing mobile heritage applications is getting increasingly more difficult to reach for many heritage institutions and projects. Quite simply, building robust mobile applications is too technically complicated and specialized for many in the heritage community.
It is within this context that this paper will introduce and explore mbira. Currently being developed at Michigan State University, mbira is an open source platform that empowers cultural heritage institutions, archaeological projects, and heritage landscapes to create, serve, manage, and sustain engaging mobile heritage experiences. Special attention will be paid to the design metaphor of “space and place as museum” that is woven into the fabric of mbira. In addition the paper will explore mbira’s features that support multivocality and public discourse.
Collecting Community Knowledges: Improved Representation through Crowdsourced Collections
Museums and public history collections are key locations for cultural interactions, as they define, construct and represent diverse cultures from near and far. Curators often approach the topics with the knowledge instilled by dominant cultures, and their biases are often manifest in museum description and curation. Biases in collections can be taken as fact by patron communities, or can be taken as point of contention, distrust, and contempt by communities who feel misrepresented. In recent years, digital museums have embraced the participatory nature of Web 2.0 to facilitate folksonomic tagging to improve the community knowledge and language in collections. While folksonomies purportedly offer opportunities for communities to offer alternatives to hegemonic narratives, there is little opportunity to interject different points of view and alternative interpretations and narratives. In their critical study of museums and Web 2.0 technology, Srinivasan et al. concluded, “"To allow the museum to perform as a contact zone, for the object to act as a citation of active knowledge, as an actor in those knowledgeable practices, a reorganization of museum practice is required, both online and off.”
I argue that the crowdsourcing of the objects themselves, in addition to the metadata and description of the objects, offers much better representation by allowing the community to have a direct contribution to the cultural heritage collections that represent them. Objects are thus added to collections complete with the meaning and significance of the object to its owner, rather than solely an interpretation from the point of view of current scholarship. Additionally, the collection itself is created by community significance and participation, rather than relying upon institutional gatekeepers. Crowdsourced collections also embrace multivocality and facilitate broader interpretations of historical events and themes through the representation of multiple viewpoints. Crowdsourced collections introduce several key challenges to established archival theory and practice, and require thoughtful considerations in determining a collections policy, determining authenticity of the objects, accessibility and re-use rights, and metadata control and authority, among other policies.
Several Digital Humanities programs in the US have experimented with crowdsourced collections, including the History Harvest, Our Marathon, and Hurricane Digital Memory Bank collections, among others. I examine the policies used in these collections, and evaluate their impact on multivocality and library practices, and propose other policies that encourage better representation of community knowledges.
 Ramesh Srinivasan et al., “Digital Museums and Diverse Cultural Knowledges: Moving Past the Traditional Catalog,” Information Society Voc. 25, no. 4 (Jul-Sep 2009): 269.
Translating Ghosts to Machines: Memorial Turned Digital or, Revisiting Quilts, Maps, and Plays
While scholars have increasingly turned attention to ghosts and a rise in memorial-making, social integration of digital arts and technologies offers new possibilities as well as new obstacles to commemoration. This talk explores the intersection of memorial practice and digital possibilities in the AIDS Quilt Touch App, the Bdote Memory Map, and dramas by Native playwrights that make use of both old material archives and new multimedia forms. Performance studies and public memory both provide lenses to examine what individuals seek in online commemorative communities, and how a digital artifact can function like and unlike a physical monument or memorial space.
The Bdote Memory Map, for instance, builds a countertext to official histories of central Minnesota through an ever-increasing set of videos, audio, still images, and texts by a variety of stakeholders. Meanwhile the AIDS Quilt Touch app responds to the increasing difficulty of displaying the AIDS Quilt, now too large to spread out in the national Mall in D.C., and parts too fragile to continue traveling in sections around the country. In the process of development, though, the AQT team uncovers telling questions about the community around the Quilt: who can and should create or amend a commemoration? What role do audience/witnesses play in the ongoing life of a memorial? Can the virtual help to manage the unwieldy physical aspects of memorial practice, such as items left in tribute? How do the needs of research intersect with the needs of affect? Exploring these two projects alongside plays such as LeAnne Howe’s The Mascot Opera and Mary Kathryn Nagle’s My Father’s Bones enriches the discussion both of community and of the role of stories of those past in relation to continued lived experience and survival. As both representation and activism shift focus to the digital realm, what does and does not change? How do the relationships of power shift? Will the decolonial revolution be tweeted?