Paper Session 1: Problems in Digital Methods in Cultural Memory



Thursday, September 18, 2014 -
9:45am to 11:00am


About This Session

Paper Session 1

Jonathan Zilberg

The Potentials and Limitations for the Digital Humanities in Asia and Africa

This paper will describe applied ethnographic work in a number of Indonesian museums from 2006 through 2014. These projects have sought to advance the use of digital opportunities for advocating for research based on these museum collections so as to enhace the "knowledge sector" (as it is known in the development community). The paper will assess the state of the four museums and their digital presence on the internet in terms of the Indonesian government's 2010-2014 museum revitalization program. In particular, the paper will review the cases of the Tsunami Museum in Aceh, the Provincial Museum in Jambi, the National Museum and the Museum Istiqlal (the National Islamic Museum also in Jakarta).  Written based on experience in a state Islamic university during this applied research, the paper will detail the problems which limit the future of Indonesia museums and universities. Though there is significant potential to advance the education system in K-12 and univeristy environements and civic engagement in this context through the digital humanities, the current state of the field in this context is highly problematic.

By way of conclusion, for purposes of introducing a comparative perspective on the current state and potential of the digitial humanities in Asia and Africa, the paper will briefly compare the author's Indonesian experience with ongoing work in Africa which highlights the effective use of digital opportunities and social media at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

mona kasra

Unnoticed, Irretrievable, or Misplaced: A Few Problems with Digitally-Networked Images

In recent years, the ease and instantaneity of visual communication technologies has notably prompted citizens to document their personal and collective experiences and encounters, and to make the images available online in real time. Circulating across social media websites, these digitally-networked photographic accounts not only carry noteworthy sociopolitical effects around the world, but they also contribute valuable information about the history and culture of our networked era. Such a shift in the process and the scope of technical recording and archiving has constituted a new age in which visual memories are digitally externalized, displaced, and transformed across social networking websites via the language of computational code. To make accumulation and future retrieval of the visual data possible, the social web fosters image indexing and engages users in a process of bottom-up production of tags, keywords, and annotations. However, when it comes to images, indexing becomes just as beneficial as problematic. This is mostly because, representing different temporal and geographical concepts, actions, and emotions, images carry meaning besides those literal metadata or caption information. In fact, insufficient, misleading, or inaccurate metadata can manipulate viewers’ understanding of the events, influence their reaction to the depicted content, or escalate chaotic mass behavior by propagating hysteria, confusion, and violence. The new paradigm in our visual culture, saturated especially with mobile images, calls for reevaluation of the ways by which images get categorized, archived, and accessed. This paper thus emphasizes on the importance of building better tools and techniques for archiving and accessing images, and examines the reason why many photographs either remain irretrievable in the massive pool of online images, or potentially direct negative social and historical consequences, building up conflict, tampering information, and subverting public order.

Christopher J. Dowdy

Right Remembering by Digital Means: Difficult Memory and Democratization as Aspects of Digital History

Lynching sites, American Indian boarding schools, collapsed mines: social violence shapes the landscape of the United States. Yet such sites are typically unmarked. Can digital history disrupt this imposed harmony of public spaces? Should it?

This paper argues that the tools of digital storytelling make public engagement with difficult history possible in fresh ways. Using as a case study my own work on a digital exhibit on a 1910 Dallas lynching, I identify specific challenges to this new possibility of right remembering by digital means. How much community collaboration should a university archive invite? How iterative and responsive should the platform be? What limits does the university research setting impose on advocacy? To answer, I develop a typology of public memory interventions by examining the rationale and progress of comparable projects like the Low Country Digital Library (Charleston, SC), the Mary Turner Project (Valdosta, GA), the Duluth Lynching Resource (Duluth, MN), and the Tiziano Project’s “Surviving Assimilation.”

I ultimately argue that the best framework for digital telling of difficult history prioritizes democratization. Confrontation with difficult history is necessary to the transformation of a turbulent society from a “defective democracy” to an “embedded democracy,” to use Wolfgang Merkel’s terms. Yet in the United States, the powerful not only write history, they determine the built environment, from zoning to the phrasing of public memorials. Access to primary sources and historical credibility becomes a means of exercising power over community self-understanding. In this light digital history occupies an alternative space, but one with potential to reinterpret absences.


Courtney Jacobs

  • University of North Texas Libraries

Courtney Jacobs received her MSLIS from Syracuse University. She is a Special Collections Librarian at the University of North Texas Special Collections where she manages the department’s public service elements and in-house digitization program.

More Info.


Mona Kasra

Mona Kasra is a media artist, educator, and a PhD candidate at University of Texas at Dallas in Arts and Technology with a focus in Emerging Media & Communications. Her research is centered around the impact, power, and politics of the digital mage in the networked era.

More Info.

Jonathan Zilberg

Jonathan Zilberg is a cultural anthropologist/museum ethnographer and an associate research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a specialist on religion and art, he currently conducts full time field research in Indonesia.

More Info.