October 11 – Digital Curating and Collecting

//October 11 – Digital Curating and Collecting
October 11 – Digital Curating and Collecting 2018-01-07T15:25:11-04:00


Digital History

Daniel Cohen, and Roy Rosenzweig. “Collecting History Online” in Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web.

Arjun Sabharwal. “Digital History, Archives, and Curating Digital Cultural Heritage” in Digital Curation in the Digital Humanities: Preserving and Promoting Archival and Special Collections. 2015. pgs 49–67

Digital Museums

Fiona Cameron. “Digital Futures I:  Museum Collections, Digital Technologies, and the Cultural Construction of Knowledge.” Curator 46, no. 3 (July 2003): 325–40.

Nancy Proctor. “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media.” Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 35–43.

Seb Chan. “The API at the Center of the Museum.” Cooper Hewitt Labs. Accessed September 8, 2015.

Mike Pepi, “Is a Museum a Database?: Institutional Conditions in Net Utopia.” E-Flux. Accessed September 8, 2015.


Project Proposal Due

Description and plan of your project . What is it? How would it work? How would you build it? And what are possible models/analogs that already exist (1000 words)

Project Proposals


  1. Isabelle October 8, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Cohen and Rosenzweig discuss the different tools available for collection purposes. They admit that for different generations, different tools will be necessary, giving the example that for veterans of the Iraq War, instant messaging might be the better route, whereas WWII veterans would probably prefer email. They go on to discuss the pitfalls of blogging (it gives way to a stream-of-consciousness style of writing), but then they move on to attracting viewers to contribute to the collection. My question is how can we fully assess the dangers of using different tools for collection? Instant messaging is surely going to give a more informal response, while emails tend to be ore thoughtful. Can a narrative be created simply by deciding which tool to use for collection?

    Many of the readings discussed a shift from modern to postmodern thought. Sabharwal goes through a list of paradigm shifts while Cameron mentions a difference in thought between the two groups. It’s fascinating to me that the same shift in thought that occurred in philosophy and art occurs in the digital collections world. How much of these paradigm shifts can be related to digital tools becoming more expansive, and how much can be related to historical events? Surely, the focus on memory after the world wars makes sense, regardless of digital tools. However, the focus to gather multiple perspectives (leading to multiple “truths”) can be credited to more global accessibility.

    Cameron discusses at some length the fear many curators have of a loss of authority. The idea that a viewer can notice thematic relationships between two pieces no doubt threatens the idea of an authority. Or rather, it replaces the human authority with that of wherever the viewer is getting their relational information from (which is a program, no doubt, created by a human). Music underwent a similar transformation, with the death of radio and the rise of software like Pandora and internet radio. Is the era of such intense curation over? It surely is for music, as radio becomes less profitable. Is society less open to the idea of an authoritative curator?

  2. Shoshanah October 10, 2016 at 1:03 am

    From Acropolis to Agora: A Catalog of Discoveries

    The readings this week all deal in some way with redefining the role of curator from expert to collaborator; from a hierarchical dissemination of information to a democratic assembly of “citizen curators.”

    Cohen and Rosenzweig suggest crowdsourcing as a democratic archival method, stating that the internet is by its very definition a “two-way street” of information. This suggests that information acquisition online happens via a collaborative conversation. One issue I see with what Cohen and Rosenzweig suggest – using the internet to not only archive but also to collect history – is that the history collected will be a privileged and biased one. Only those with ample access and leisure time will have the means to participate. And, while I agree with the assertion that “online collecting is an unparalleled opportunity to allow more varried perspectives to be included in the historical record than ever before,” it is still not a true cross-section of the global human population. According to Breuster Kahle there are about “10-15 million people’s voices evident on the web.” There are 7.5 billion people in the world. That means 0.2% of the global population has a voice represented online. Kahle’s assertion that “the Net is a people’s medium,” may be true, but is it really “all there,” if only 0.2% of humanity is represented?

    Cameron addresses the consequences of this uneven representation in her essay Digital Technologies and the Cultural Construction of Knowledge. She cites Manovich, “Digital media privileges particular modes of the world and of human experience that in turn also influence how the user conceives the data contained therein.” It’s a version of the chicken and the egg. Does access/lack of access online create a privileged narrative of human history, or does reading that curated history create a privileged world-view? How are, as Cameron suggests, the roles of museums being redefined from “containers of expertise and authority” through the use of interactivity and two-way communication?

    What are the consequences and possibilities for museums, libraries, and other archival institutions if, as Proctor claims, “the museum’s digital presence is not longer confined to its website?” I like the analogy made by Steven Zucker, “as a transition from Acropolis – that inaccessible treasure on a fortified hill – to Agora, a marketplace of ideas offering space for conversation, a forum for civic engagement and debate, and an opportunity for a variety of encounters among audiences and the museum.”

    My personal research focus is an extension of Proctor’s question: “How can the real world museum encounter with the artifact be communicated to remote audiences?” I ask, how can real world encounters with the ephemeral and ethereal be communicated to remote audiences through the use of digital technologies and interactive medias? I believe this can be actualized through, as Proctor states, “exhibitions that focus on creating events and sensations rather than generating knowledge.”

  3. Anna October 10, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    1- In the API at the center of the museum, there is apparently “an aptly-named ‘holodeck’ for simulating all manner of Pen behaviours in the galleries.” My question then is, if there is a way the museum can gather all the Pen behaviours in the galleries, how would it then use it? Could the museum trace one specific visitor experience in the museum by tracing the pen or pens he uses? Could the museum then target some visitors for certain programs or exhibitions? Would that data been only accessible by the museum or publically published or even shared with other museums of similar interests?

    2- In Digital: Museum as platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media. When the author talks about the Torrance Art Museum in California and its choice of considering the museum as “an artist’s museum, a curator’s museum and our audience’s museum for active engagement—so if this strikes a chord with you then feel free to send proposals in us.” I am not sure the museum’s position is really clear. In this statement, the museum distinguishes categories of the community but it also launches an initiative in which the audience is allowed to curate. Where is the limit then? Who is the audience and who is the curator? And if the museum decides to make the audience curate, then why establishing distinct categories?

    3- Still in Digital: Museum as platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media. The author states that “Curators are the most trusted art experts, whose aggregated knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and aesthetic observations define the meaning and value of art.” I think it is also important to mention that the audience and critics makes the value of art. A curator may organise a fantastic exhibition, will the art have much value if nobody goes to the exhibition? Also what kind of value are we talking about here? Is it a financial value? Aura?

  4. Lauren October 10, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    1) Digital Technologies and the Cultural Construction of Knowledge: Who is the narrator when you move from the analog world into the digital world? Does their influence on the story have a heavier bias? who is the privileged narrator? Who has the right to archive and put their framing on the stories?

    2) Still in Digital: Museum as the platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media. : The idea that everyone knows you can’t believe what you read on the internet yet the many lies that sweep the cords of the web seep into our day to day thinking. How does moving into the digital world take away from the trust we have put into curation of exhibits? Will we continue to believe in the exhibit as we move into a new platform? Is this just a naive ignorance that is showing our lack of understanding of reading truth over someone curated expression?

    3) How do you test if an API is the right one for a museum?

  5. Cristina October 11, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Authorship and Authority Online
    Collecting – as well as caring for, sharing and interpreting collections – are inherently acts of authorship. Many models of collecting and managing collections online were given in this week’s readings.

    1. What public-facing online collection results from the recommendations put forth by Fiona Cameron in her article “Digital Futures I: Museum Collections, Digital Technologies, and the Cultutral Construction of Knowledge?” Is it navigable? Sustainable? What do the many suggestions from the constituents that she surveyed say about authorship and authority online generally? What advancements or trends in tech in the past 13 years dictate differences between Cameron’s view and today’s online environment? Do the recommendations gathered by Cameron enable or inhibit the “’neoliberalization’ of information formerly held in the public trust” as described by Mike Pepi in his E-Flux article “Is a Museum a Database?: Institutional Conditions in Net Utopia?”

    2. Do you agree that a “small pool of potential contributors” is, in fact, a deterrent to creating an online platform for gathering history around any topic? Think of the example given by Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, in the chapter “Collecting Online History” in Digital History: Guide to Gathering, Preserving and Presenting the Past on the Web, of the limited number of scientists that have done research related to Greenland ice drilling. What is the appropriate alterative for making this history accessible? What do multiple models based on such criteria as constituency and sample size say about authorship and authority online generally?

    3. Seb Chan’s article “The API at the Center of the Museum” assumes the benefits, necessity and “sustainability” of providing public access to a cultural institution’s API. Name some reasons why, then, any institution would restrict public access to such resources, having built them for internal purposes.

  6. kcauley October 11, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Would you agree with Manovich and Lyotard’s assessment that challenges the Utopian nature of online curation? Or do you believe that technological advances have opened up the collective memory to previously underrepresented groups (an argument I believe Sabharwal addresses)? What are some of the ways that digital media privileges certain cultural capital over others? What power relations are most contributing to the digital landscape?

    The Proctor piece address crowdsourcing and its potential influence towards civic engagement and debate. How do you feel this shift in curation will affect the museum as an institution? Will there still be a need for professional educated museum curators in the near future? Do you see their positions vanishing or reforming into a different role than before?

    Cohen & Rosenzweig quotes sociologist Don Dillman “Survey designers try to get too much detail from respondents. The result is survey abandonment, which the Internet makes relatively easy.” Is it true that short, linear, open-ended questions are the most effective means for proper survey results? Furthermore, what are some of the pros and cons that internet surveys provide for research?

  7. Zejun October 11, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Q1. In “Collecting History Online,” chapter “Qualitative Concerns,” Cohen, and Roy Rosenzweig concern about the authenticity of the online content generated by the users. Various mechanisms (e.g. email address, ZIP codes) have been implemented to identify valid inputs. I am wondering is the process of validation becomes a form of implicit censorship? Any alternatives ways to filter instead of ban online inputs?

    Q2. In “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media,” Proctor describes one of the evolutionary pressures on the contemporary art museum is the shifting focus of exhibition from generating knowledge to creating sensations (P37). What kinds of sensations are museums aim to foster? How to justify the value of them?

    Q3. In “The API at the Center of the Museum,” Chan embraces the idea of open up museum API for public to build upon. However, unlike the idea of accessing an online gallery, API requires its users to have fundamental knowledge on API or at least basic understanding of how the backend code works. Can museum initiatives really be considered as “open” with hidden prerequisite implied?

  8. Ariel October 11, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    In Cohen and Rosenzweig, it says, “Historians will need to find ways to capture such documents, messages, images, audio, and video before they are deleted if our descendants are to understand the way we live.” It is interesting to think that in a time when we have so many resources available, it seems to almost complicate the process of preservation. I can only wonder, what will be next that will complicate this further?

    Later in that article it says, “Recently, for example, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London, and several other British museums and archives have pooled their resources to display and collect stories of immigration to the U.K. in a project called Moving Here. Thus far, the project has posted almost 500 stories and artifacts–mainly digitized versions of existing archive records but also new materials acquired via the site–ranging from a documentary video on Caribbean life to the reflections of recent African immigrants.” This made me think of the Syrian refugees. How are we seeing their stories captured by different social media channels? Also, how will the individual stories be captured and told by historians? In this I am thinking of the Olympics this past summer and how a handful of athletes brought attention to the refugee’s struggles by competing as independent Olympic athletes instead of representing a country. This makes me further reflect on the number of stories captured versus the amount of stories that exist.

    In Cameron’s article, she mentions Lev Manovich’s view that, “new media is culture encoded in a digital form. Databases are cultural objects in themselves.” I have a hard time getting to that point. How can a database be a cultural object? I understand how they can collect information about cultural objects, but I do not see how they themselves are cultural objects.

  9. Whitney October 11, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    1. How is it that digital media are considered the ultimate postmodern media set, as stated in Cameron’s “Digital Futures I: Museum Collections, Digital Technologies, and the Cultural Construction of Knowledge” essay? There seems to be an inherit oxymoronic quality to prescribing the name of the highest degree of postmodernist ideology to a machine that functions completely due to algorithmic truths.

    2. I agree with Cameron, though, in her stating that the modernist narrative is not dead. Even if new media are essentially encoding culture in a digital form, how can digital humanities scholars imagine that there is no room left for a museum experienced IRL? Personally, the highlight of visiting a museum is the tangible quality to it, even if you’re not allowed to actually “touch” anything.

    3. If, as Nancy Proctor proposes, museum exhibitions are trending toward focusing on creating events and sensations rather than generating knowledge, at what point does a museum cease to be a museum?

  10. lbowen October 11, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Could the shift in the role of curator as authoritative subject-expert to one of “expert communicator, interpreter, moderator and facilitator” be interpreted less as a rejection of curatorial authority and/or the authoritative role of the museum more broadly, and instead, perhaps, be considered a reflection of the postmodern paradigm that emphasizes the existence of multiple “truths”? Meaning, the narratives put forth by the curator/museum are simply one of many narratives visitors can and should consider? How does this acknowledgment affect How does this embrace of postmodernity in the realm of historiography, for example, relate to the predominance for storytelling that we see with initiatives like StoryCorps and others?

    I am intrigued by the evolution of the archivist from “records keeper” to “activist-curator” which I feel is not fully developed in Sabharwal’s article (50). From what I gather, archivists’ attempts to democratize the collection process and to make archives more representative of groups/interests other than those specific to or advanced by the state is being labeled as an “activist” stance which I am not sure that I agree with. I would be curious to hear what others think about this concept. Overall, the article seems to suggest that the roles of the archivist, thought about before.

    Given the limitations as to who has internet access (socioeconomic status/geographic location/leisure/etc.) and the fact that online collecting is successful primarily when certain protocols are observed (e.g. short surveys with open-ended questions), can one truly argue that it is a more accessible manner to reach a wider breadth of audiences?

    An aside but one that I think is worth noting: to imply that the idea of the museum as a forum or marketplace of ideas is a more recent development, as suggested by the Cameron article, is to ignore the wave of “community museums” that were established across the country during the late 1960s and 1970s. These cultural institutions were founded primarily in communities of color to protest the elitism, Eurocentricism, and authoritative nature of the “traditional museum.”

  11. Leslie October 11, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    In the Coehn and Rosenzweig article, they write, “Furthermore, in contrast to traditional oral history, online collecting is a far more economical way to reach out to historical subjects. For example, because subjects write their own narratives, we avoid one of the most daunting costs of oral history, transcription.” This confuses me. Does all oral history have to be transcribed? What about an oral story that has been collected digitally? If this is the big advantage of digital collections over oral histories, is it really an advantage at all? Finally, oral histories are living, breathing things. There’s a difference between digital collections and oral histories. I think comparing them isn’t exactly right.

    In the same chapter it states, “given the slippery character of digital materials, how can we ensure that what we get is authentic, or that historical narratives we receive really are from the people they say they are?” I think nothing in the article is more relevant than this. This election cycle proves that, with paid trolls and people hired to make memes that proliferate misinformation. How can we better regulate the Internet so that more people are linked in real life to their digital actions? Does this undermine the “spirit of the Internet,” so to speak?

    It says in “The API at the Center of the Museum”, “Its about sustainability. Sustainability of content, sustainability of the experiences themselves, and also, importantly, a sustainability of ‘process’. A new process whereby ideas can be tested and prototyped as ‘actual things’ written in code. In short, as Larry Wall said its about making ‘easy things easy and hard things possible’.” I don’t quite understand this. What makes content “sustainable”?

  12. sdemott October 11, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    1) Why / How has it come to be that museums have become innovators in digital experience or representatives of “techno-utopian” plan? ( Mike Pepi, “Is a Museum a Database: Institutional Conditions in Net Utopia”)

    2) What is the role of authorship in digital humanities? Does authorship change or become collaborative? Is this the closest that historians get to collaboration? (Daniel Cohen, and Roy Rosenzweig. “Collecting History Online” in Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web.)

    3) How does a mandate to build differ from a mandate to analyze? (Arjun Sabharwal. “Digital History, Archives, and Curating Digital Cultural Heritage” in Digital Curation in the Digital Humanities: Preserving and Promoting Archival and Special Collections. 2015. pgs 49–67)

    4) Does interlinking within a digital archive change the very methodology of history making? And how will this linking become more widespread? (Arjun Sabharwal. “Digital History, Archives, and Curating Digital Cultural Heritage” in Digital Curation in the Digital Humanities: Preserving and Promoting Archival and Special Collections. 2015. pgs 49–67)

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