About the project – University of Copenhagen

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The Past’s Future > About the project

About the project

Research background and aims

A number of international declarations and conventions – notably the International Bill of Rights – delineate education in all its forms as the necessary tool for developing individual human capital: Promoting individual freedom and empowerment and yielding important development benefits, education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights.

Normative instruments of the United Nations and UNESCO lay down international legal obligations to promote and develop the right of every person to enjoy access to education of good quality – and they make it an obligation for governments to provide such education.

The Constitution of UNESCO (1945) famously declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” One important purpose is to “Maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge: By assuring the conservation and protection of the world’s inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science, and…[b]y encouraging cooperation among the nations in all branches of intellectual activity” (UNESCO, 1945).

UNESCO has continued, over the years, to highlight the role that can be played by cultural heritage and cultural heritage institutions (CHIs) as vehicles for education and inter-cultural understanding and dialogue.

Today, more and more of the world’s cultural and educational resources are produced, distributed and accessed in digital form rather than on paper. CHIs are significant stakeholders in the digital transformations, and they currently allocate enormous amounts of resources to scanning, to metadata editing as well as to presenting texts and other cultural artifacts.

One consequence of this mass digitization has been a demand for increased user participation – a demand which has major implications for CHIs’ obligation to further education.

The most pertinent questions raised by the call for participation in relation to education are the following, which form the general research questions for ‘The Past’s Future’:

How may we understand the concept and framework of education in light of the digital transformations - and how do these transformations affect the future of the past as collected, preserved and disseminated by CHIs?

Digitization creates new possibilities for making culture accessible, for creating public access to historical knowledge, and for presenting culture as the collective memory of society. However, it also raises complex questions in relation to methods of organizing, interpreting, and using knowledge. A comprehensive answer to our research questions is therefore premised on at least four different sub-questions:

  1. How will user participation in content – and digitization in general – affect the moral-political-educational obligations of CHIs?
  2. What impact will the increasing (financial) needs of CHIs for entertaining their ‘customers’ have on their ability to educate the public?
  3. What digital infrastructures do CHIs develop as part of their obligations towards knowledge institutions such as universities?
  4. How do these infrastructures and public-private partnerships in data management affect the role of CHIs as public organizations and accessible platforms for public dialogue?

In collaboration with three Danish national CHIs – the National Gallery, The National Museum and The Royal Library – and with Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, Director of the metaLab at Harvard University, we wish to offer a critical, yet constructive, framework for analyzing and facilitating the engagement with digital transformations in relation to CHIs and the humanities more generally.

We also wish to participate in public debates and to offer policy recommendations, to ‘our’ CHIs but also to other heritage owners, scholars, public administrations, research partners and local communities, so as to attract a strong international network as well as external clients.

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The three sub-projects: