On 21–22 June 2021 the DigiCONFLICT Research Consortium holds the conference Museums Fit for the 21st Century: The Challenge of Technology in partnership with the European Solidarity Centre, Gdańsk (Poland). The conference is designed to consider the digital turn in the institution of the museum as an important derivative of wider societal and cultural changes. Discussioning around museums and digital technology tend to center on the question of how to keep at pace with rapid change of technological innovation, but as such it does not always reflect on the dangers and challenges brought by digital technology. By producing digital heritage, expanding the museum space to the Internet, integrating users with the museum public, melting interaction with education, transforming museums into industries, the application of technology can arguably alter and distort the nature and the mission of the institution of the museum. Not taking digital technological means and tools for granted, the conference asks whether their application has truly transformed museums to fit the 21st century and turned them into community-based, open and democratic institutions that pay enough attention to contemporary conflicts and challenges. The conference programme will be livestreamed via YouTube (registration not required).
DigiCONFLICT Project Leader Gil Pasternak represented the consortium in delivering one of the event’s plenary talks on the opening panel “Digitization and Patrimonialization: A Critical Approach”. The panel focused on critical approaches to the patrimonialization of assets via digital technology as a means to explore ways to reduce interpretation biases. The DigiCONFLICT talk explored interplays of digital literacy, heritage protection laws and subjective perception in the process of digital patrimonialization as biases that condition the creation, realization, efficacy and therefore the interpretation of digital heritage assets. Held online on 11-12 March 2021, the conference Digital Technology and Heritage: Challenges and Issues was organized by the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche – ANR), Joint Programming Initiatives Cultural Heritage (Horizon 2020) and the French Ministry of Culture to create an opportunity for scientific exchange on the current challenges facing the digitization of heritage and the new possibilities offered by digital tools for the production and dissemination of knowledge. Drawing on three of DigiCONFLICT’s case studies, the consortium’s contribution to the event identified the biases of digital literacy, heritage protection laws and subjective perception as particularly disruptive in the context of community-related digital patrimonialization initiatives. It therefore advocated the necessity for heritage professionals and policymakers to invest more resources in tackling these challenges with a view to increasing the trust of communities in the heritage sector’s ability to digitally transmit their heritage into the future.
Issue number 2 (2020) of the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Santander Art and Culture Law Review (SAACLR) focuses on the current challenges faced by cultural heritage law and policy in view of the changes brought about by the emerging prominence of digital technologies. As explained by the special issue’s co-editors, Ewa Manikowska, Gil Pasternak and Malin Thor Tureby, digitization is nowadays at the heart of national and supranational cultural heritage policies worldwide, shifting traditional approaches to cultural heritage quite dramatically. If traditionally cultural heritage has been associated with ideas of preservation, access and education, now technological advance—digital technology in particular—position it in direct connection with questions concerning global perspectives, the economy and ideas about democracy. Although institutional stakeholders and policy-makers strive to keep pace with rapidly-changing technological innovations and possibilities, the special issue demonstrate that many of them grapple with definitions of cultural heritage, processes and procedures that emerged in the pre-digital era of “classical” (i.e. “analogue”) heritage. Comprising interviews, research articles and legal commentaries, the special issue reflects on the growing need to define and systematize digital heritage and the implications of digitization on cultural heritage. The many contributors, who come from multiple academic disciplines and professional backgrounds, signal the pitfalls and inconsistencies of existing definitions, legal frameworks and policies, while proposing solutions and innovative viewpoints. The complete special issue has been published open access and is therefore available via the Santander Art and Culture Law Review website.
On 4 December 2020, Gil Pasternak organized and hosted online an event that explored uses of digital heritage in terms of community engagement with the establishment and maintenance of digital photo databases, focusing on the question of what kinds of photographs gain the status of cultural heritage in the digital age and on what ground. Delivered as part of Pasternak’s 2020-2021 appointment as Visiting Professor at Vehbi Koç Ankara Studies Research Center at Koç University in Turkey, the event was titled Photographic Heritage and “The Craze” for Community Photo Archives, primarily designed as such as a knowledge transfer workshop for doctoral and postgraduate students, early career researchers and professional practitioners. While steering discussions about the social and cultural value of photographs, the workshop considered more closely the cultural and academic status of photographs created by non-professional, amateur and opportunistic snapshot photographers. The main portion of the event gave the floor to the directors of two UK-based photographic community heritage initiatives who have made it their mission to safeguard the private photographs of distinct communities in the country. One initiative is The Living Memory Project which has recorded and celebrated everyday life stories connected to family photo albums. The other is the Apna Heritage Archive which has gathered, documented and displayed personal family photos collected form UK-based Punjabi migrant communities. The event coupled with the two presentations and the discussions it generated enabled participants to consider who has the right, in practical terms, to define some photographs as valuable cultural objects and others as unimportant. The event helped develop a critical understanding of photographic collections and archives while equipping participants with the ability to consider the contributions that non-institutional digitised photo collections can make to advance visual histories – and historical studies more broadly. Participants came from across all campuses of Koç University in Istanbul and Ankara and represented multiple academic and professional fields and disciplines, including archaeology, history of art, sociology, and design technology.
Recovering Connections: Poles, Jews and Our Interrelated Heritage is a photobook featuring fragments of the lives and feelings shared by members of Leicester’s Jewish and Polish communities through their own photographs in an attempt to reconnect with their interrelated history and culture. Now published by Independent Publishing Network, it is one of the outcomes of a community engagement series of workshops led by Gil Pasternak in collaboration with President of Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation Miriam Levene and Chair of Project Polska Barbara Czyznikowska in November-December 2019. In opening up a space for the two communities to explore and understand the multiplicity of their personal, historical, and cultural connections to the Polish country, the workshop series coupled with the production of the book were designed to nurture an understanding of the role digital technology plays in framing, negotiating, and redefining cultural heritage. This was achieved through the use of analogue cameras along the creative process as a means to identify and notice how non-digital modes of social engagement and representation differ from digital ones, thus how digital technology changes and challenges the ways we consume imagery, interprate past realities and engage with historical memories.
This month has seen the publication of “Remembering, Commemorating, Diversifying: Private Photographs and Communal History in the Age of Digital Heritage”, a book chapter contribution by Gil Pasternak for the book Living Memory: Life Stories and Photography Collections. While investigating what has led to the now relatively common digital heritagisation of personal photographs in our time, Pasternak mainly considers many of the photographs gathered by the UK-based, landmark Living Memory Project, a community-based project which ran between 2017 and 2020 to record life stories and digitise related personal photographs of residents of the Black Country region in England, United Kingdom. Pasternak’s chapter explores what contributors to the project have expected their otherwise private photographs to do once crossing into the public sphere through digital reproduction. His book chapter appears alongside other visual and written pieces by writers and artists who share thoughts and perspectives about the changing role of everyday photography in the twenty-first century and in the digital age in particular.
On 31 January 2020 Gil Pasternak was invited to deliver the talk “Digitized Contestations: Family Photographs in the Struggle Over Cultural Heritage in Israel” as part of Speaking of Photography the annual series of public lectures on the history, theory, and practice of photography, organized by the Department of Art History at Concordia University, Canada. In his talk, Pasternak explained that although for the onlooker, Israel may appear as the state of a united people and Israeli society politically coherent, the multiple range of photographic digital heritage initiatives currently prevailing in the country frame Israel as a zone of cultural conflicts. Pasternak demonstrated that, especially since the 2009 election of a right-leaning government, Israeli citizens have turned to family photographs and digital technology to document, preserve, and popularize a range of cultural heritage creations, often unauthorized by the state or its official institutions. He therefore discussed what has led Israeli citizens to use specifically family photographs in their attempts to diversify Israel’s socio-political sphere and what it can tell us about Israeli attitudes towards the state of Israel and Israeli canonical culture.
The DigiCONFLICT Research Consortium in collaboration with the Editorial Board of the biannual Santander Art and Culture Law Review (SAACLR) and as part of the Consortium’s research project Digital Heritage in Cultural Conflicts (DigiCONFLICT) is pleased to announce a Call for Papers on the impact of the digital turn on cultural heritage law and policy. Click here to view the full call, including a downloadable PDF version.
On 6 December 2019 Gil Pasternak delivered the keynote talk at the conference Photography as a Tool of Representation of Political Violence in the 20th Century, which was organised by the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Gagarin Center for Human Rights and Civil Society at Saint Petersburg State University. Entitled “At Home with ‘Palestine’: Performing Historical Photographs of the West Bank in Israeli Households”, Pasternak’s talk offered insights into the multiple roles played by popular photographic cultures in the embodiment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israel of the post-1967 Arab-Israeli war period. It specifically focused on the participation of photographs that Jewish-Israelis captured within the West Bank in performances and celebrations of Israel’s 1967 war victory. Sketching the lives that the photographs have lived in the Jewish-Israeli household since 1967, Pasternak argued that they helped Jewish-Israeli citizens cement their perceived historical relationship to this territory at the same time as they reassured the travelers, their friends and families that their morality was intact, the country was secure, and their relationship with the Palestinians was affectionate. Pasternak then examined how the photographs in question have over time become absorbed into digital heritage projects and what role they are made to play today as visual historical documents in state-endorsed digital archives in Israel.
On 24 November 2019 Gil Pasternak spoke at the annual memorial assembly for the Jews of Piotrków Trybunalski, organised at Yad Vashem (Heichal Yahaduth Wolyn) by the Piotrków Trybunalski Jewish Association in Israel. Having accompanied members and friends of the Association on a commemoration and heritage-preservation trip to the city of their ancestors, Pasternak entitled his talk “Preserving Piotrków Trybunalski’s Jewish Heritage: Observations, Impressions, and Conclusions from Commemoration Trip 2019”. He shared with the audience some of his observations about the challenges of heritage maintenance facing the second, third, and fourth generations of Shoah survivors. Among other subjects, he discussed the options available for salvaging first-hand knowledge of Jewish life and culture in the city both during and prior to the Second World War. Dedicating part of his talk to differentiate between “collective memory” and “connected memory”, he especially highlighted the importance of cultivating a Jewish-Polish inter-communal participatory culture and the advantages of utilising informative historical photographs and digital heritage practices.
On 10-12 November 2019 a group of professionals, communities and scholars gathered to discuss issues concerning the Museum’s potential employment of oral histories and personal narratives, paying particular attention to themes such as community engagement, research, collecting, archiving, curating, and exhibiting sources, and the sustainability of projects more broadly. The workshop was organised to consider ethical guidelines regarding research, and the collecting, archiving and dissemination of oral histories and personal narratives in the context of the museum sector. This, ethical guidelines project, aims to develop a set of principles that can guide museum practitioners in their work and when engaging with different communities and members of the public. Its objectives are to position respect for human dignity at the front and centre of the work cultural institutions carry out, to establish museum practices that will encourage the meaningful participation of historically marginalized voices, and to address the unequal distribution of power within museums. Approximately 30 individuals participated in the event to share their local, national or international experiences and expertise.
On 8 November 2019 Gil Pasternak was invited to deliver a masterclass at Dudley College of Technology. Entitled “What are Family Photographs Made to do at Home, in Public, and in Digital Heritage?”, the masterclass explored the many uses of family photographs in domestic and public contexts, and was split into three parts, each of which paid attention to different types of practices and social environments. In the first part he explored the history and development of family photography from the nineteenth century to the present day, with specific focus on conventional representational practices, distribution technologies, and the common functions of family photographs. In the second part of the class he investigated a selection of instances in which family photographs have become absorbed into the public environment, discussing what might have made family photographs, as otherwise private types of objects, most fit for purpose. Lastly, in the masterclass’ final part, Pasternak discussed the growing attention family photographs receive in cultural heritage digitisation and digitalisation initiatives. Here he was particularly concerned with the various ways in which family photographs have been used to preserve as well as salvage “forgotten” cultural heritage. Part of the class included direct interaction with the students who brought some photographs from their own family albums as a means to explore what happens to family photographs once taken out of the domestic environment, whether through digitisation, digitalised circulation, or otherwise. The event concluded in a Q&A session and panel discussion with Geoff Broadway (Project Director of The Living Memory Project), Anand Chhabra (Director of Black Country Visual Arts and founder of the Apna Heritage Archive), and Pasternak. You can read more about this event on the Black Country Visual Arts blog page.
On 8 November 2019, Gil Pasternak was invited to deliver a talk to students and members of the public at Wolverhampton School of Art, the University of Wolverhampton. Entitled “Photographs in Interpersonal Relations and Cultural Diplomacy”, Pasternak’s talk discussed the relationship of photography with political, social, and civic affairs. He used this opportunity to demonstrate the significant role that photography has played in the organisation of collective interpersonal relations since its first appearance in the nineteenth century, as well as in the formation of connected cultural knowledge and memory, since the medium’s absorption into smart communication technologies, social media, and digital archives. In particular, Pasternak explored the ways in which photographs are used in our time to manage identity politics, preserve cultural heritage, and overcome as well as administrate cultural conflicts through institutional, professional, and communal digital heritage initiatives. The event concluded in a Q&A session and panel discussion with Geoff Broadway (Director of The Living Memory Project), Anand Chhabra (Director of Black Country Visual Arts and founder of the Apna Heritage Archive), and Pasternak.
In partnership with President of Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation Miriam Levene and Chair of Project Polska Barbara Czyznikowska, on 5 November 2019 Gil Pasternak launched and delivered a community engagement project on Polish and Jewish interrelated heritage. Entitled “Photo Storytelling: Poles, Jews and Our Interrelated Heritage”, the project was designed to help build social, cultural, and interpersonal bridges between the otherwise largely segregated UK-based Polish and Jewish communities. It employed disposable cameras, digitisation, and digitalisation practices as a means to bring together participants from both sociocultural groups to explore each other’s history, beliefs, values, and everyday realities through carefully considered photographic storytelling. Consisting of a series of workshops for approximately 20 individual volunteers from the two communities, who have been recruited via an open call, the project established an environment and the means for all participants to share, analyse, and discuss photographs that each of them produces in-between meetings. Assisted and facilitated by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Manchester, Project Polska, Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation, and De Montfort University, the workshop’s conveners employed digital technology to generate a communal, inclusive atmosphere as well as a way to direct attention to details that may escape the participants’ attention when engaging with their photographic paper-prints. In creating and sharing photographs about their homes, families, and domestic as well as communal lives, participants entered into dialogue on their origins, backgrounds, cultural legacies and social realities alike. They touched on each other’s perceived knowledge, stereotypes, differences, and similarities to explore and understand the multiplicity of personal, historical, and cultural connections to the Polish country. Learning about the initiative through our online advertisements, a few hours before the launch BBC Radio Leicester invited the three workshop conveners to discuss its scope and intentions live, as part of the daily radio programme Jimmy and Summaya of 5 November 2019. The project will culminate in an online digital exhibition of contributions from the Jewish and Polish communities, intended to nurture appreciation of their cultural worlds as well as sensitivity to the role digital technology plays in framing, negotiating, and redefining cultural heritage more broadly.
On 27 October 2019 the photographic display Voices from Our Photo Albums opened to the public in the Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre in the village of Akrotiri, located within one of the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus. The occasion signified the culmination of community engagement activities that Pasternak carried out in Akrotiri earlier that month, facilitated by archaeologist Mireya González Rodríguez as part of a collaborative partnership between the DigiCONFLICT UK research team and the Ancient Akrotiri Project that runs by researchers from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester (UK). Having digitised family albums of members of the local community, Pasternak established a digitised photographic collection capable of encouraging members of the British and Cypriot communities to engage in inter-communal explorations of local cultural heritage and their interrelated histories alike. As well as demonstrating the value of family photographs as socio-culturally informative historical sources, the display was designed as an interactive social means to enthuse more members of the local community to volunteer to develop a digital heritage archive. With approximately one hundred individuals visiting the space on the opening day, the display proved to have been a great success.
As part of a knowledge-transfer partnership between DigiCONFLICT’s UK research team and University of Leicester archaeologists from the Ancient Akrotiri Project, on 25 October 2019 Gil Pasternak co-delivered a masterclass on digitised photographic cultural heritage to year 6 pupils at Episkopi Primary School for British Service Families. Intended as an enrichment educational activity to their history curriculum, the lesson was titled “‘Old’ Photographs as Historical Sources in a Digital World” and it included many interactive exercises. Among others, the pupils were guided to consider photographs as historical primary sources, identify the advantages and limitations of photographic digital heritage, and explore what can be learnt about the history of British-Cypriot relations from the digitised versions of photographs that Pasternak helped scan from albums of Cypriot families living in Cyprus’ British Overseas Territory. To cement photographic and digital literacy alike, part of the lesson revolved around digitised photographs originally produced in Victorian England, which was one of the historical periods the pupils were studying at the time. The masterclass was designed and delivered together with Mireya González Rodríguez, Director of the Outreach and Community Engagement Programme of the Ancient Akrotiri Project.
On 24 October 2019 Alicja Jagielska-Burduk presented the paper “The Cultural Heritage Loss – Responsive Law Paradigm” at the International Symposium on the Frontier Issues of Cultural Heritage Law, organised by Renmin University of China (in Beijing). Part of a two-day event, that day was dedicated to Laws and Policies for the Return of Cultural Property Taken during the Colonial Control or Foreign Invasion (19th ~ mid-20th Century).
On 10-13 December 2019 Andrzej Jakubowski participated in the conference Restitution Dialogues at Tel Aviv University (Israel), gaving a paper on restitution-in-kind. The conference was organised by the Minerva Centre for Human Rights (Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv University), University of Toronto, and the Institute of Art and Law in Builth Wells (United Kingdom).