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36
DigiCULT
M
ost people have a clear notion of what
a museum is. Although there will be
differences in detail, the consensus would
surely evoke the grand bricks-and-mortar edifices
behind which all sorts of physical objects are stored
and displayed.The corps of people dedicated to
amassing, conserving, analysing, exhibiting, and
otherwise conveying information about this material
is an equally well-defined professional community. If
individual members of this specialist community were
asked to list its salient attributes, responses would vary
according to the narrower disciplinary community to
which the respondent belonged. A vertebrate zoo-
logist at a natural history museum and a musicologist
at a museum of cultural history may have fundamen-
tally differing perspectives on what nominally appears
to be the same museological concern. Similar differ-
ences will be noted in national perceptions of museum
activity. For example, in some countries botanical
gardens are traditionally regarded as museums, while
in others that is the last thing they are.
Museums are also often seen in the context of
broader communities.When these constellations are
culled from within the heritage management sector
there are two common principles for their aggre-
gation. One reflects institutional identity and defines
museums as belonging to the `ALM sector' (Archives-
Libraries-Museums).The other reflects functionality
and speaks of `memory institutions'. This has the
advantage of immediately accommodating heritage
management agencies that are not conveniently
labelled as A's, L's or M's. (The most glaring omission
from that group is `monuments and sites', which
overlap and extend museum community concerns,
and must be included if both fixed and movable
property are to be given their full due.)
However fractal the professional museum
community may be and regardless of the broader
contexts in which it may be included, for the largest
part of their existence, the central focus of museums
has been on collections of physical objects. During
the course of the community's development,
emphasis has increasingly been placed on the need
for the study and documentation of the context in
which an object comes into being, the forces that
cause it to do so, and the manifold purposes that
it may serve.
Documentation became an increasingly greater
community concern, resulting in the notion of
`collectionless museums' being introduced into
the discussion several decades ago.The need for
museums to embrace these intangible concerns has
been further brought to the forefront by the now
ubiquitous presence of community resources on the
Internet (searchable collections, archival narratives,
multimedia presentations, etc.).This adds an entirely
new level of appropriateness to the term memory
institution and confronts the museum community
with a critical need for redefining its boundaries.
Similar impetus to reconsidering the scope of
community concern was provided by the Convention
for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
passed by UNESCO at its 32nd General Conference
in October 2003. Quoting briefly from that docu-
ment, `the intangible cultural heritage means the
practices, representations, expressions, knowledge,
skills - as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts
and cultural spaces associated therewith - that
communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals
recognize as part of their cultural heritage'.
1
The UNESCO definition of intangible cultural
heritage does not make explicit reference either to
born-digital creative activity or to its conveyance
via the Internet.The definition places emphasis on
performance events and orally conveyed tradition,
which, in fact, have long been core considerations
in the activity of specialist museums such as those
dealing with music, dance and theatre.The Con-
vention is being heeded by the broader museum
community, which is actively examining the need for
attention to intangible heritage in disciplinary areas
that have not yet perceived intangible extension of
their physical concerns.The museum community
does not, however, appear to have taken as keen
notice of another Charter passed during the same
Conference.This UNESCO Charter on the Preser-
vation of the Digital Heritage states that `born digital'
materials `should clearly be given priority' and
unequivocally includes cultural material in
this realm.
2
D
IGITISING
I
DENTITY
: T
HE
M
USEUM
C
OMMUNITY
M
EETS THE
N
ET
By Cary Karp
1
Full text at:
http://unesdoc.unesco.
org/images/0013/001325/
132540e.pdf
2
Full text at:
http://portal.unesco.org/
ci/ev.php?URL_ID=13366
&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC
&URL_SECTION=201&r
eload=1071506590;
for information on the
consultation process see:
http://unesdoc.unesco.
org/images/0013/001311/
131178e.pdf
Digicult_THI5_JS_090104 09.01.2004 14:33 Uhr Seite 36