The Past’s Future: Digital Transformations and Cultural Heritage Institutions
Closed project. Project period: 2015 - 2017.
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.
Today, more and more of the world’s cultural and educational resources are produced, distributed and accessed in digital form rather than on paper. Cultural heritage institutions are significant stakeholders in the digital transformations, and they currently allocate many resources to scanning, metadata editing and presenting texts and other cultural artifacts.
Education and the future of the past
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 interpreting and using knowledge.
Collaborating with three Danish national cultural heritage institutions – the National Gallery, the National Museum and the Royal Library – and with Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, Director of metaLab at Harvard University, we wish to analyze the concept and framework of education in light of the digital transformations – and how these transformations affect the future of the past as collected, preserved and disseminated by cultural heritage institutions.
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 subquestions:
- How will user participation in content – and digitization in general – affect the moral-political-educational obligations of CHIs?
- What impact will the increasing (financial) needs of CHIs for entertaining their ‘customers’ have on their ability to educate the public?
- What digital infrastructures do CHIs develop as part of their obligations towards knowledge institutions such as universities?
- 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.
Cultural "Bildung" in a digital age
The turn toward cultural Bildung in relation to CHIs and the role that digitization will play in it, form the research context for ‘The Past’s Future.’ Bringing together expertise from history, arts and cultural studies, and computer science, our research team is ideally suited to critically assess and discuss the turn toward cultural Bildung in the digital age – and its consequences for CHIs.
Along with collecting, preserving, researching and exhibiting artifacts, education has always been among the main tasks of CHIs.
The ways in which and the purposes of which these tasks have been carried out have differed sharply over time, though – from the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities, emerging in the 16th century, whose encyclopedic collections of objects were meant to astonish and dazzle; via the ostentatious wealth of the Baroque museums of the 17th and 18th centuries displayed as demonstrations of power, colonial as well as national; to the bourgeois museums of the 19th century offering a more emancipated role for their visitors, just to mention a few examples.
Generally speaking, it is between the orientation toward the cultural object or artifact itself, its form and contents, on the one hand, and the orientation toward the subjective experience of the individual visitor and his/her interaction with the artifact, on the other, that scholarship on museums and their educational role has moved – and still does to this day.
The top-down method and one-way didacticism implicit in much of what was going on in and around CHIs in the 1970s and 1980s would become a major reason for criticism by the early 1990s. At this point, rather than educating the public and viewing visitors as (passive) receivers of Bildung, CHIs and museum scholars began to see visitors as costumers, eventually also as partners.
In line with what came to be known as the ‘experience economy’ (Pine and Gilmore, 1999), CHIs began to orchestrate memorable events for their customers/visitors – to provide opportunities for individualized challenges as well as for a personalized construction of meaning (Paris, 1997).
Furthermore, CHIs were increasingly seen as instruments for government policies on social inclusion, cohesion and access (Brown, 2007). For this, digitization came in handy; the advent of the computer enabled people of all ages to gain the skills and knowledge they need to contribute to and share in the information and communication age of the 21st century.
Today, we are arguably witnessing a second turn, possibly even a paradigm shift. One indication is that CHIs are increasingly viewed as places of dialogue between employees of CHIs and the general public (Jenkins, 2006). Research, Bildung and understanding are no longer provided by the CHI researchers for the benefit of the general public, but instead happen as a result of an active, two-way communication.
Our point of departure and entry into the larger issue of the turn toward cultural Bildung will be the participatory CHI and user participation in content creation. ‘Lay’ participation in digital knowledge production, both conceptually and empirically, is relatively new to both CHIs and the academy, especially the humanities.
The term ‘crowdsourcing’ is often used as a label for such lay activity. Originally coined by Howe (2006), it has come in recent years to be used by CHI researchers and academics about the power of the crowd to achieve research aims.
Participatory activities range widely. At one end of the spectrum is the involvement of interested lay people in family- and local history-related projects such as the ‘Cyber-Infrastructure for Billions of Electronic Records’ (CI-BER) project, a case study of the Southside neighborhood in Asheville, North Carolina (Grant et al. 2012), or ‘Sejrs Sedler,’ to take an example closer to home (Aarhus Stadsarkiv, 2014).
At the other end we find more academically oriented studies such as the University of Oxford led ‘A Museum Without Walls: Realising the Potential of Crowdsourcing in the Arts’ which involves the tagging of cultural resources (PCF, 2014).
To this category also belong blogs by scholars active in the field such as the participatory initiative ‘Transcribe Bentham,’ based at University College London (UCL, 2014; Causer. et al., 2012; Causer and Wallace, 2012), Rose Holley’s Blog (Holley, 2013; 2009), ‘The Shipping News blog’ (Greenstreet, 2013), started by Colin Greenstreet as an innovative academic project for the collaborative transcription, linkage and enrichment of primary manuscripts; and Lori Byrd Phillips’s blog on the relationships between museum professionals and the communities they serve.
Digital research methods are currently entering the mainstream of humanities research, and there are a number of initiatives addressing the conceptualization and construction of research infrastructures for the humanities. Digital Humanities Lab Denmark (DIGHUMLAB) is one example; CLARIN and DARIAH-EU are two others.
We will use a comparative approach as well as an interdisciplinary methodology. This will allow for a comparison of conditions, forms and impact relating to CHIs at three different levels: synchronically by looking at contemporary perspectives and topical issues; spatially by comparing different approaches to CHIs and the turn toward cultural Bildung and digitization around the world (especially Europe and the U.S.); and diachronically by focusing on the long historical trajectory of Bildung, education, digitization and cultural rights.
Various research tools and methodologies will be used, including paper-based and webbased questionnaires, interviews and archival work. Weekly meetings of the participants (who will all be based at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen – see below) will help toward developing a common understanding of research methods and expectations.
Porsdam’s approach is that of the historian of ideas and/or cultural historian – roughly: working with sources, both empirical and theoretical (e.g. UNESCO archival material); gathering, selecting and analysing relevant information along with verifying the authenticity and veracity of this information and of the most pertinent collected evidence; and understanding ideas and cultural concepts as something that are themselves historically conditioned rather than eternally fixed (Brett, 2002).
Porsdam also intends to conduct qualitative interviews with CHI scholars so as to get a more detailed understanding of their beliefs, attitudes and values (Seidman, 2012; Silverman, 2013).
Bonde Thylstrup’s approach is cultural-theoretical. She will work conceptually with the notions and genealogies of curation, Bildung and individuation; draw on theoretical frameworks such as post-structuralism, curatorial studies, information technology studies and infrastructure studies; as well as include a series of qualitative interviews with key figures in the cultural heritage institution world.
Waagstein will apply traditional computer science methodology for IT-system development (e.g. Sommervile, 2011). This will be used to analyze, plan and execute the implementation of a prototype of a set of digital tools. To explore the user requirements for the digital tools, interviews will be applied (Kvale, 2008), where the type of interviews depend on the stage in the development cycle.
Collectively, the research team members represent an interdisciplinary mix. Their work will promote a new phase of digital humanities: a qualitative digital humanities which combines cultural Bildung with the aim of both furthering knowledge/good quality education and inter-cultural understanding in the cultural heritage sector.
The Past's Future is divided into four subprojects:
Mobilizing for enlightenment in the digital age: a cultural history of the right to education
Project by Helle Pordam, PhD & dr.phil, professor of American Studies
The contribution of this sub-project toward answering the general research questions, outlined above, will be to address directly subquestion 1:
How will user participation in content – and digitization in general – affect the moral-political-educational obligations of CHIs?
Subquestions 2 and 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? And what impact will the increasing (financial) needs of CHIs for entertaining their ‘customers’ have on their ability to educate the public? – will also be touched upon, if less directly.
In addition, Porsdam investigated:
- How the impact of intellectual property (primarily copyright) concerns impact on digitization and cultural Bildung efforts undertaken by CHIs such as the three collaborating CHIs of ‘The Past’s Future’, and
- How these see their role and obligation as NATIONAL institutions in a world that is rapidly globalizing - not least due to digital transformations.
Cultural Heritage Institutions, Digital Transformations, and Intellectual Property
Project by Stina Teilmann-Lock
In this sub-project the focus will be on the role of intellectual property law - in particular copyright law - in relation to ongoing digital transformations of cultural heritage within the three institutions that are collaborationg with 'The Past's Future.'
The legal framework of intellectual property law serves to protect cultural heritage from unauthorized exploitation. Inevitably, this implies restrictions on the use of new technological possibilities connected with digitization for the purpose of Cultural Bildung.
Thus, a main concern of this part of the research project will be to investigate the impact of intellectual property law on the formation of a new type of Bildung in scholarship and in eductation.
Curating digital cultural heritage: questions of care, control and function
Project by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, PhD in Arts and Cultural Studies
The contribution of this sub-project toward answering our general research questions will be to address directly sub-question 4:
How do the new digital infrastructures and public-private partnerships in data management affect the role of CHIs as public organizations and accessible platforms for public dialogue?
It will do so by giving a genealogical account of the concept and the practice of curation in light of digitization. It will situate this account within the changing functions of cultural heritage in the information age; and it will debate how Bildung and individuation, as two different but related concepts, may each offer important perspectives on the significance of the form and function of curation in the digital archives in relation to aesthetic sensitization.
This project considers how network systems and the big data environment have changed the practice of curating in a wider socio-political context, articulated through two key issues: big data and network systems.
Underlying these urgent considerations looms a more fundamental concern that pertains to the issue of freedom and control. The digital environment has led some to argue that curatorial power has been distributed. It no longer merely includes official or ideological representations; private lives and opinions that are now routinely displayed and archived in public spaces, are also involved.
Research in the humanities: digital tools for the study of digitized material
PhD project by Jeppe Eimose Waagstein, M.S. in Computer Science
By focusing on the cooperation between CHIs and universities, this sub-project will contribute toward answering our general research questions by directly addressing sub-question 3:
What digital infrastructures do CHIs develop as part of their obligations towards knowledge institutions such as universities?
This will be done at a positive, practical level by analyzing and implementing a digital tool for participatory research studies of digitized material in collaboration with the Royal Library, and at a theoretical level by discussing how qualitative studies and collaborative research in the humanities may be supported by the computer.
As such, the project tries to provide constructive answers to the second part of the general research question: how digital transformations affects CHIs’ possibilities to disseminate cultural heritage.
In summary, this sub-project will study how a library may design participatory digital tools to support cooperative qualitative analyses of digitized material for the humanities researcher. It is the assumption that such digital tools are desirable and of great importance in ensuring that the knowledge produced can be shared between scholars and disseminated.
The project will consist of a practical/empirical part and a more theoretical part designed to assist each other.
All sub-projects will work together with three Danish national CHIs:
We have chosen these institutions because of their well-stated missions, and because they have certain national responsibilities to preserve and present Danish cultural heritage.
As large cultural institutions they play both a national and an international role in addressing the challenges of collecting, preserving and providing contemporary and long-term access to the world’s knowledge - and they have to find a balance between the demand for and the wish to provide access to knowledge, on the one hand, and the need to protect the substantial investment in information goods made by creators and industry, on the other.
These CHIs have agreed to an active partnership: workshops, networking activities, discussion of research questions, and knowledge exchange. They will also function as a basis for collecting our empirical data (interviews etc.).
Even though our primary empirical basis is limited to three national CHIs, the topics of our projects are inherently international. One of the leading researchers in the field of Digital Humanities, Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, will join the project and work on the dissemination of digital cultural heritage. Schnapp is the Director of the metaLab at Harvard University and has worked – both as an academic and as a designer – with CHIs in a digital age.
Schnapp will teach an intensive course at the Saxo Institute, based on the topics of the project, and to visit Copenhagen for one week during the three remaining years of the tenure of the project.
We will furthermore collaborate with:
- John Naughton, Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and the Technology columnist for the London Observer newspaper
- Fiona Macmillan, Professor of Intellectual Property at School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London
- Hermann Parzinger, President, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Germany
- Peter Michael Edson, Associate director/Head of Digital, UN Live - Museum for Humanity
Along with our national collaborators they will form our Advisory Board, participate in workshops and provide feedback on our research.
Remediations of cultural-natural heritage
4-5 December 2017
As Londa Schiebinger and other historians of science have shown, the history of botany is also the (hi)story of the indivisibility of political, cultural and economic motivations in the world of science. These histories tend to get lost, however, in the contemporary cultural and scientific communication of botanical artefacts. This conference seeks to foreground the interrelations between cultural and scientific histories of natural history collections, and the necessity of bridging the “two cultures” that often keep them separate.
The Past’s Future - the role of heritage institutions in the digital age
Helle Porsdam, University of Copenhagen
Outlining the programme
Stina Teilmann, University of Southern Denmark, and Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, University of Copenhagen
Decolonising natural history collections of Empire
Vinita Damodaran, University of Sussex
Abstract: The paper relates to the Sussex University Collections project on Indian Natural History collections in Botany and Meteorology that has achieved outstanding engagement with a range of non-academic partners in the U.K. and India demonstrating impact of reach and significance in its ability to highlight new sources to understand environmental and climate change and to reach wider audiences through museum displays and online digital resources. Funding from the Sussex Research Opportunities Fund and the AHRC has led to collaborative work between the Centre for World Environmental History (CWEH) at Sussex with a range of non-academic institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, (Kew) the British Library (BL), the U.K. Met Office, the World Meteorological Organisation and Indian institutions such as the Botanical Survey of India (BSI), the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun (FRI) the Indian Museum and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). It has resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Sussex, the British Library and the U.K. Met Office, whereby these institutions agreed to share historical weather and climate data. The network currently has 105 members and has held successful meetings in the U.K. and in India and a school project in Kolkata. We also host a descriptive account of the collections relating to natural history of the Indian Ocean World on the CWEH website. The project has played an important role in highlighting collections that embrace the patriarchal, matriarchal and tribal (indigenous indian) agronomies. In doing so it pioneers both indigenous and gendered approaches to Indian botanical history.
Unleashing the potential of botanical collections by combining research and communication
Nina Rønsted and Ole Seberg, The Botanical Garden and Herbarium C, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen.
Abstract: Botanical gardens and herbaria both represent national and international heritage and are actively used for research, education and communication. Botanical collections are both reference collections for identification and education and for documentation of research. Simultaneously they provide meta-data documenting our natural history in time and space. In addition to the basic obligations of preservation and registration, strategic management must ensure a broad representation of the Earth’s plant diversity in order to enable meta-analyses and to kick-start research projects. Additionally, collections of exceptional high scientific and cultural value must be identified. An essential condition for maximising the use of collections is access − access to authentic physical specimens on site and through loans and access to metadata, and to the history and cultural heritage of the collections; thereby increasing their value for society. Despite their importance, natural history collections, not least botanical collections, are often short of resources and merely viewed as being preserved for their historical value and for botanical specialists. Digitization of collections increases accessibility both for scientists and for society at large, and offers an untapped resource of almost unlimited potential use. However, both the collections and their associated data need to be carefully curated and often, expert interpretations are needed to fully understand the documentation and the biodiversity patterns found and future challenges and opportunities. Understanding of the collections in cultural history may require interdisciplinary research. In addition to the fundamental access, creating further synergy by merging collectionbased research with education and communication will create increased awareness, appreciation and understanding of the potential uses of collections in the broadest sense to be fully unleashed to the benefit of society. Examples of current botanical collection based research with high cultural value and communication potentiality from the Natural History Museum of Denmark are provided by the living collections of sunflower-tree (Scalesia) from the Galapagos Islands – a botanical parallel to Darwin’s finches; the national Atlas Flora Danica citizen science project; the quest for quinine bark (Cinchona), the primary treatment of malaria for over 300 years; and the evolutionary and cultural origin of the globally popular Aloe vera.
Open the treasure room and decolonize the museum
Prof. Dr. Tinde van Andel, Clusius chair of History of Botany and Gardens, Leiden University and Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Netherlands
Abstract: The treasure rooms of Leiden University and Naturalis Biodiversity Center harbour unique collections of bound herbaria and botanical drawings, made by 16th century botanists in the Mediterranean and by 17th and 18th century ship doctors and naturalists of the Dutch East and West India Company in present-day Sri Lanka, Suriname, Indonesia and Japan. Recent digitization efforts allowed us to study many of these collections for the first time. In the past, these historical herbaria were mainly consulted by taxonomists to designate type specimens. The wealth of data on local plant names and uses associated with these specimens and illustrations was largely ignored. In the past few years, we studied several of these historic collections from an ethnobotanical perspective, linking the botanical content to indigenous knowledge in the colonial territories, the havoc of trans-Atlantic slavery, the search for new medicines for tropical diseases, and the conservation of traditional crop varieties. Locked behind the closed doors of royal palaces, libraries and universities for centuries, these collections represent the cultural heritage of present-day citizens of the Mediterranean, southeast Asia and South America. Our goal is to publish these collections and their associated cultural histories online to allow further, multidisciplinary studies and to decolonize our museums.
Kew and the making of a global modernity
Zeynep Çelik Alexander, University of Toronto
Abstract: The world that we inhabit today is in many ways a product of the botanical enterprises of the Enlightenment. This paper examines the architecture of the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew in an attempt to understand how it organized not only knowledge but also labor and capital across the globe throughout the nineteenth century. Such herbaria expanded the spatial logic of the modest cabinet that the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus had prescribed in Philosophia Botanica (1751) to hold flattened botanical specimens to the scale of entire buildings and complexes. The modular architecture of the Kew Herbarium had distinct advantages: it allowed the arrangement and rearrangement of specimens as species, genera, or families were added or removed and even as the theory holding the whole system together became defunct. More importantly, the Kew Herbarium served as a card catalogue of sorts for the British Empire. It facilitated the transfer and substitution of plants, seeds, experts, and information across the vast networks of the empire thus contributing to the making of a global modernity.
Flora Danica as a ”Bildungs”-project
Henning Knudsen, University of Copenhagen
Abstract: The scientific level in Denmark around the middle of the 18th century was poor when compared to nearby countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and England. In Sweden the “Light of the North”, Linnaeus and his pupils, were shining, and the Netherlands was a centre for many kinds of new impulses from its distant colonies and trade partners. In this situation, the Danish foreign ministry inspired King Frederik V. to initiate two major projects to remedy the situation: Flora Danica and the Expedition to Arabia Felix.
For the purpose of compiling a comprehensive flora of the Danish realm, several initiatives had to be taken. A German medical doctor, G. C. Oeder, was hired, a botanical garden was erected, expeditions were sent out to different parts of the realm and textbooks to support the work were written. The original intention of FD was to help the farmers and others interested in plants to get to know their flora and in this way to improve their knowledge and not least their agricultural results. Consequently, FD was deposited throughout the realm (Denmark, Norway, Schleswig-Holstein, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland), one set with the bishops in each region, and one set with the highest state authority.
FD soon received much reputation for the high quality of its tables, both inland and among foreign botanists. The editor urged botanists from other countries to prepare similar works so that the costly way of production needed not to be repeated in all countries. In this way, the different floras together would constitute a total flora of Europe. Not surprisingly, the optimistic idea only had few followers such as empress Katarina the Great of Russia and N. J. Jacquin in Austria. They joined however only for one viz. five volumes. Similar floras were later initiated as Flora Londinensis and Flora Batava.
Looking back, the intention of FD was a failure, since the farmers did not use it. This may have been a result of the most important of the planned set of textbooks were never written, because Oeder soon fell in disgrace for his alleged cooperation with count Struensee and was replaced as editor.
In spite of these and many other circumstances Flora Danica has ended up as an icon for Danish quality, not mainly through the work itself, but through a set of 1800 pieces of chinaware commissioned by the court in 1790. It is decorated with the first 1260 plates and still in use by the court at festive celebrations and thus upholds the reputation of this largest project during the Danish enlightenment.
Cultivation, invasion, and repair: Bildung in the Arnold Arboretum
Matthew Battles, Harvard University
This presentation explores the varieties of Bildung that a botanical garden founded in an age of abundance has offered, historically; and what new models of cultivation, survival, and repair it might in turn develop after abundance, in an era of human-induced global warming, with relations in the more-than-human world ever more visibly in the midst of transformation. The garden in question is Boston's Arnold Arboretum, a hundred-hectare parcel in the midst of a busy and changing city, founded and designed from the start to effect an urban, Victorian model of civic cultivation; and affiliated with Harvard University, a venerable institution of higher education which, at the time the garden came into play, was deeply implicated in promotion of the virtues of Bildung in the mold of German Idealism. In its original design, developed by the pioneering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Arnold Arboretum strove to distribute the clarity and pedagogical salience of taxonomical order along winding, woody paths and suddenly-opening swards of turf and shrub, lining pastorals of clement repose with the unfolding paradigms of botanical knowledge. In the Arboretum, the bucolic and the biologic both had key roles to play in the pursuit of Bildung. Today, we can recognize a different set of opportunities, implicit in the design program from the start, emerging to transform this landscape. The garden infiltrates neighborhoods of radically divergent demographic makeup and economic opportunity, and is infiltrated in turn by a cosmopolitan assemblage of native and invasive plant species—not all of them propagated by the Arboretum's horticulturalists. In conclusion, I turn to Foucault's concept of the "heterotopia"—a domain in which numerous orders, natural, cultural, temporal, and personal, are interposed—to explore some of the ways this fraught and fragmentary garden becomes fertile ground for species of Bildung respondent to the trans-species, multi-gendered multisensory flux of the Anthropocene.
Collections: reimaging museum specimens
Leah Sobsey, Assistant Professor, The University of North Carolina Greensboro
Abstract: This artistic research investigates state and university science collections and national park museum collections through nineteenth-century photographic processes intertwined with twenty-first century digital technology. Sobsey’s work visually and procedurally recalls the scientific practice of taxonomy; however, where taxonomy sets out to document, define, contextualize, codify, and classify, her artistic practice reverses this inertia. In each collection she photographs, she seeks instead to reanimate her subjects, unpin them from their histories, and erase their contexts. If the nineteenth-century pictorialists used process and manipulation to elevate the photograph from recorded image to art, Sobsey uses photographic experimentation and contextual erasure to create a new poetics of taxonomy. Her most recent work, Collections (Daylight Books, 2016), is a culmination of a decade of photographing specimens in state and university science collections and national park museum collections.
Making herbaria matter at the New York Botanical Garden, and beyond
Anna Toledano, Stanford University
Abstract: What in the World is a Herbarium? While these collections of pressed plants are central to our work, the term “herbarium” is largely unfamiliar to members of the general public. The rich historic and scientific value of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium—the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere—at the New York Botanical Garden is well-known within the botanical and horticultural communities, but focus group studies have revealed that the average New York resident has no knowledge of its existence. Over the past few years, NYBG has made a concerted effort to communicate the relevance of its invaluable collection of over 7.8 million specimens—some centuries old—to the modern-day New Yorker. I led the writing of the successful proposal for a $150,000 Museums for America grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to finance an exhibition featuring the collection. The result, What in the World is a Herbarium?, ran from March 4 through October 29, 2017 in the Garden’s Arthur and Janet Ross Gallery. Drawing on my professional experience, I will reveal the process behind the planning and development of the exhibit, as well as the outcomes and possible next steps for effective, meaningful public interpretation of the Steere Herbarium as well as other lesser-known herbarium collections around the world.
Supporting stories of Bildung: On the human right to culture and science
Helle Porsdam, University of Copenhagen
Abstract: We all have a human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress (Right to Science). In both Article 27 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 1966, the right to science is mentioned together with the right to participate in cultural life and enjoy the arts. Both relate to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding as well as to human creativity.
The connection of both science and culture with education is also relevant. Education is a fundamental human right which is essential for the exercise of all other human rights, and taking normative action for realizing this right has always been very important in the UNESCO context. The link between cultural, science and education recall the link that existed for the framers of the UDHR between everyone’s right to the full development of his/her personality, education and the right to participation in culture.
This talk is about what may be gained by looking at the right to participate in cultural life and the right to benefit from science and its products as one right.
A new life for pressed plants at the intersection of science, art, and history
Emily K. Meineke, Harvard University
Abstract: Since the 1700s, scientists, including Linnaeus and Darwin, have collected herbarium specimens to describe plant species around the world. Current estimates indicate that herbaria house over 350,000,000 specimens. Scientists today employ these specimens for purposes that could not have been imagined by early collectors. Evolutionary biologists extract and sequence ancient DNA from herbarium specimens to reconstruct the plant tree of life. More recently, ecologists use herbarium specimens as occurrence records for determining plant species distributions and when plants leaf out, flower, and fruit. These aspects of plant biology are changing rapidly due to rising global temperatures. I will give a brief history of herbarium specimens in biology and will discuss the future of plant collections as they are increasingly available online for largescale analyses and science outreach. Then, I will consider pressed plants as resources for exploring connections between art, history, and science in a time of anthropogenic change.
Linnaeus Online: Browsing Nature, Archives and Websites
Dr Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter
Abstract: Second only to Darwin, Linnaeus is probably one of the best-documented naturalists on the internet. Linnaeus Link provides a union catalogue of the holdings of Linnaeana by major research libraries, which in turn are readily accessible through Google Books, Internet Archive and Biodiversity Heritage Library. Almost all manuscripts by Linnaeus, as well as his own, annotated books, are available through digital platforms hosted by the Linnean Society in London and Uppsala University Library, and holographs as well as transcriptions of all extant letters to and from Linnaeus can be browsed on the website of the Linnaean Correspondence project. Even the many specimens of plants, fish, insects and shells that he collected can be inspected online on the Linnean Society’s website. In my talk, I am going to explore these riches from the perspective of a user who also was involved on the fringes of some of the digitization projects that created them. I will argue that they not only reveal aspects of Linnaeus’s work that were long neglected – its medical and economic dimensions in particular – but also pose the challenge how to navigate them. Digitization creates the illusion of ready access, but accessing digital collections continues to presuppose significant expertise, not the least familiarity with the material constitution of those collections, and the way they were organized in the pre-digital age.
On Remedies, Gardens, and Sugar Cane Contemporary artists healing within the colonial archive
Dr Temi Odumosu, Living Archives Research Project School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University, Sweden
Abstract: “She had bitter gomma, portogee bomba / Conga Larua and twelve o’ clock broom / Sarsparilla, wild tomato, soursop leaf / And Papa bitch weed. / Wild bush, wild cane, wild leaf, monkey liver / That’s bitterer than wild bay root. / Action stands and even monkey liver / And all the rest you may need.” – The West Indian Weed Woman Calypso
Weed women, sages and medicine men have all been human repositories of African and indigenous botanical knowledge(s) throughout the historical formation of the Atlantic world. From within the violence of enslavement and its racialised regimes of domination, these individuals (and their wisdom) provided remedial possibilities for all those embroiled in the colonial matrix. Traditional West-Central African healing modalities carried across by enslaved people were forced to adapt in a New World bioculture, alongside economic imperatives to hand-cultivate plant crops such as cotton, indigo, tobacco, rice, and sugar cane. Coordinated between the bodies, sweat, and blood of African labour, the soils of the Americas were made steadily abundant.
Where has all this craft, knowledge, and mastery been documented (or rather memorialised)? How are botanical and natural sciences haunted by conditions of coloniality? And what are the therapeutic possibilities of inhabiting colonial archives and their latent memories?
This presentation addresses these questions by exploring the archival impulses agitating the work of contemporary artists from transatlantic sites where histories of slavery and colonialism are unresolved. The discussion begins with a meditation on absence and presence articulated through historical documents representing people of African descent participating in the development of Botanical knowledge production. It then visits the work of artists using their work to revive ancestral knowledge(s), and/or negotiate themes of waste, silence, inheritance, beauty, and magic.
International conference on cultural rights, 13-14 November 2015
In 2009, the UN appointed Farida Shaheed as Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. The Special Rapporteur has since published various reports on cultural rights which together provide a new standard on this new and exciting area of human rights.
Farida Shaheed will be present at this conference during which international experts will comment on each of her reports. The UN reports will subsequently be published, together with the comments, in a volume edited by Helle Porsdam (Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen) and Lucky Belder (Utrecht University). One underlying question for the conference is whether, with due care and attention, cultural rights could become a prime mover – an enabler and driver for development by providing a much-needed cultural legitimacy for human rights.
During the last few decades, cultural rights have become increasingly relevant in the context of globalization and the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights. Furthermore, cultural rights are seen as key to the realization of the UN Millenium Development Goals. It is generally accepted that cultural rights are of equal importance to all human beings and impose upon nation states the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill these rights.
This is particularly interesting as international legal instruments such as the International Bill of Human Rights are comparatively silent on cultural rights.
Lotte Hughes, Doctor, Open University, UK: Report 2010 - Implementing cultural rights (Nature, issues at stake and challenges)
Lucky Belder, Professor, University of Utrecht, Report 2011 - Access to cultural heritage
John Naughton, Professor, University of Cambridge, Report 2012 - The right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications
Yvonne Donders, Pofessor, Amsterdam University, Report 2012 - Cultural rights of women
John Naughton, Professor, University of Cambridge, Keynote speech
Shahira Amin, Journalist, Egypt, Report 2013 - The right to artistic freedom
Hanne Hagtvedt Vik, Assosiate Professor, University of Oslo, Report 2013 – 2014: History and memory
Dalindyebo Shabalala, Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Report 2014 - The impact of advertising and marketing practices on the enjoyment of cultural rights
Fiona Macmillan, Professor, University of London, Report 2015 - Intellectual property regimes: copyright
Ms. Karima Bennoune, the new UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights: Closing remarks
|Porsdam, Helle||Professor and Project Leader for The Past's Future||Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen|
|Kuisz, Jaroslaw||Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow||Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen|
|Thylstrup, Nanna Bonde||Postdoc||Saxo Institute and Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen|
|Schnapp, Jeffrey||Professor||Graduate School of Design, Harvard University|
|Teilmann-Lock, Stina||Associate Professor||Department of Design and Communication, University of Southern Denmark|
The project has been granted 5.9 million DKK by the VELUX FOUNDATION.
The VELUX FOUNDATION is a non-profit foundation and part of the VELUX FOUNDATIONS, founded by Villum Kann Rasmussen - Founder of Velux and other companies in the VKR group.
Read more about the VELUX FOUNDATION
Project period: 2015-2017
Unleashing and confronting stories of Bildung: Remediations of cultural-natural heritage
The Past's Future project hosted a conference in December 2017. The conference speakers discussed botany in the digital age, citizen science and cultural Bildung.
Professor and Project Leader
The Saxo Institute
University of Copenhagen