Postcolonial Digital Connections
Postcolonial Digital Connections was a two day workshop convened in May 2018 by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Area Studies (ZIRS) and University College London Anthropology Department with support from the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. The workshop brought together researchers from different parts of the world to explore the reasoning, concepts, and consequences of digitizing cultural heritage and to present current projects.
This website brings together examples from museum collections, national libraries, 20th century literature, and photographic archives from both Global South and Global North. These case studies aim to provide a platform for reconsidering both what it means for cultural heritage to be postcolonial and to be digitized. What are the challenges and chances when the Berlin Ethnographic Museum decides to cooperate with students and experts in Amazonia to programme and design a database on the collections from Amazonia held in Berlin? What problems does the online availability of a Quechua manuscript solve, and what remains unresolved with its custody at the National Library of Spain? What other legal options beside Creative Commons or national copyright exist when it comes to digital and online cultural heritage? How can traditional knowledge and indigenous views on online availability be reflected within national and international legislation? How can Lagos benefit from a digital humanities' approach to some of the most important literary works on the city? What do collaborative practices between museums and communities entail, and where are the limits to online and offline cooperation? And do these necessarily need to include institutions of the Global North, or (where) do digital means open avenues for different understandings of postcolonial heritage?
These are but some of the questions posed during the conference and reflected in the contributions here. They lead to discussions that make us consider individual contexts of digitization projects, the conditions of 'original' and technical reproduction, of people involved, or available infrastructures. Their commonality lays in the intentional use of digital technology for access to cultural heritage, albeit the different modes – technical as well as conceptually – challenge our understanding of what postcolonial digital connections can or should be. With the digital entering museums and archives, these institutions' entanglement with colonial and postcolonial can become apparent, if we understand the digital as potential instruments or mirrors for recognising and investigating the logics of museums and archives (see Geismar and Müller forthcoming). The digital might even become an agent, as does the the Other Nefertiti, who appears here too. The bot becomes an agent of postcolonial digital connections, and states so most clearly in her own words: 'I am taking on an agency for millions of stolen and looted objects in the museums of the Global North.'