Critical perspectives on cultural heritage: Re-visiting digitisation

Today, the Semantic Web and Linked Open Data are creating new value for the descriptive information in the cultural heritage sector. Libraries, museums, heritage management and archives are seeing new possibilities in sharing by turning their catalogues into open datasets that can be directly accessed, allowing cultural heritage data to be circulated, navigated, analyzed and re-arranged at unprecedented levels. This is supported by research funding bodies, governments and EU policies and numerous political interests, resulting in enormous investment in digitization projects which make cultural heritage information openly available and machine readable. But before deploying this data, one must ask: is this data fit for deployment?

Libraries, museums, heritage management and archives have long histories. Both the collections they house and the language they use(d) to describe said collections are products of that historical legacy, shaped by, amongst others, institutionalized colonialism, racism and patriarchy. Yet descriptive information is now being digitized and shared as if that legacy is not inherent to the collections. Instead, existing units of information are being distributed through new Web 3.0 technologies, bringing with it an outdated knowledge-base. Besides the risk of progressive techniques being applied to regressive content, we may also sacrifice the development of new knowledge in libraries, museums, heritage management and archives aimed at facilitating socially sustainable futures, remediating exploitative historical legacies. 

For this workshop, we have invited researchers and practitioners to discuss ways in which digitisation approaches may be set up to change the nature and legacy of cultural collection prior to digital dissemination.

The workshop is co-organized by Linnaeus University (specifically by Centre for Applied Heritage and iInstitute) as well as Swedish National Heritage Board.

Co-organizers: Koraljka Golub, Anders Högberg and Ahmad Kamal.


09.00 – 09.40 Maria Drabczyk
"Understanding the social value of cultural heritage collections"  See video

09.40 – 10.20 Natalie Harrower
"There’s FAIR, and there’s fair: how do we capitalise on both?" See video
See presentation: There's FAIR and there's fair.pdf

10.40 – 11.20 Dominic Oldman
"Does the Semantic Web and Linked Data Adequately Represent Humanities Knowledge & Methods? A Critique of Artificial and Dualistic Computer Techniques" See video
See presenation: Critical Cultural Heritage.pdf

11.20 – 12.00 Panel discussion


  • "Understanding the social value of cultural heritage collections"
    Maria Drabczyk, Head of policy and advocacy at Centrum Cyfrowe

    Digital cultural collections are gaining on importance. With more and more content being digitised alongside with accelerating technology and room for new cross-sectoral collaborations it is time for the archives to rethink their access and use strategies. And this won't be possible without a new look on digitisation and general preservation approaches. Why should collection holders put more focus on the end users - people of various professions and interests who are the beneficiaries of the archive? How can they consciously build their relationship with their audiences so that they see the value of the archives? The presentation will address these questions based on some practical examples.

    Maria Drabczyk is Head of policy and advocacy at Centrum Cyfrowe. Sociologist, researcher, manager of cultural projects in the field of heritage and new technologies. She is a board member of the EUscreen Foundation, member of the Europeana Association Members Council and Chair of the FIAT/IFTA Value, Use and Copyright Commission.
    In the past, she acted as a project manager at the National Film Archive –Audiovisual Institute (FINA), in charge of international cooperation, mostly focused on access and creative re-use of the Institute's digital collection for research, educational or artistic purposes. She co-created a crowdfunding site for culture and worked as an international relations expert at the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
    Passionate about investigating and further strengthening the social value of cultural heritage institutions and supporting both cultural and educational sectors in shaping their, user-focused, digital strategies.


  • "Does the Semantic Web and Linked Data Adequately Represent Humanities Knowledge & Methods? A Critique of Artificial and Dualistic Computer Techniques"
    Dominic Oldman, Head and Principal Investigator of the ResearchSpace project at the British Museum, and a Senior Curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan.

    Historical research is a complex combination of ontology and epistemology for which databases are ill equipped to represent adequately, creating reductions and fragmentation (and therefore built-in obsolescence) despite the availability of computer networks and networking. In many examples, Linked Data has inherited the qualities of the database (in term of the artificiality and reduction of content) and provides a form which can easily perpetuate a dualistic view of the world. While textual narrative can avoid some of these issues, its own limitations mean that it fails to adequately represent the full complexity of the monistic (real world) picture, consisting of different vantage points and a changing dynamic, and critically evaluate them against the available empirical information. This short presentation highlights some issues of the mindset-technology dialectic related to data orientated research and knowledge working.  

    Dominic Oldman is Head and Principal Investigator of the ResearchSpace project at the British Museum, and a Senior Curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan. He is an interdisciplinary researcher with a focus on digital research methods and digital historiography. His research has been converted into the practical open source ResearchSpace system - a new type of contextualising knowledge base system promoting collaborative interdisciplinary research and allowing people to grow and synthesise knowledge that relates to and reveals different aspects of history and society. He is deputy co-chair of the CIDOC CRM (Conceptual Reference Model) Special Interest Group and is currently a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, History Department.


  • "There’s FAIR, and there’s fair: how do we capitalise on both?"
    Dr. Natalie Harrower, Director Digital Repository of Ireland

    FAIR is about sharing openly and enabling reuse of content through applying a series of best practices in packaging, describing, and sharing your data. But how do we go about choosing what data is fit for being FAIRified? How do the choices one makes in digitisation and curation relate to a broader sense of fairness in cultural and archival representation? Drawing on the work of the Digital Repository of Ireland, this talk will address both why cultural institutions should consider following the FAIR principles when opening and disseminating their heritage collections, what conceptions of social and cultural ‘fairness’ are supposed by FAIR, and what considerations should go into assessing, acquiring and curating those collections.

    Dr. Natalie Harrower is Director of the Digital Repository of Ireland, a certified national infrastructure for Ireland’s arts, social sciences and humanities data. Actively involved in developing the open science agenda in Ireland and internationally, Natalie is on the Steering Group of Ireland’s National Open Research Forum, and is a member of the EOSC working group on FAIR and the European Commission’s FAIR data expert group (see Turning FAIR into Reality). She serves on ALLEA’s Open Science Taskforce, and regularly contributes to publications and events that draw connections between Open Science and GLAM sector data, such as DARIAH’s booksprint How to Facilitate Cooperation between Humanities Researchers and Cultural Heritage Institutions and the 2020 ALLEA report Sustainable and FAIR data sharing in the Humanities.

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