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DigiCULT 9
of Oxford, explains `... the problem is cross-cultural.
In many non-Western societies, knowledge is
transmitted/transferred either on a "need to know"
basis or else only to persons who have been
educated/initiated to a point where they are able
to assimilate the new bit of information.
Uncontextualised knowledge, floating free of these
social webs, has no significance, and may indeed be
dangerous to the holder; individuals themselves have
power and knowledge within social networks, and
learn and deploy information only within those
networks.' `Indigenous people', Peers points out, `are
concerned to protect their intellectual and cultural
property, and so are wary of sharing information,
often seeking to place conditions and restrictions on
how information is disseminated.Western society, on
the other hand, sees free access to information as
socially liberating and as promoting the ideal of the
autonomous individual.The Web is a creation of
Western society.'
6
Cultural narratives are not only kinds of know-
ledge that inflect the meta-narratives of society.
Bruno Latour replaces science and technology into
its social context, blurring the boundaries between
nature and science, between human and thing,
inscribed into the rationalising project of modernity.
7
Obliquely referring to our prioritising of some
creatures over others, the Natural History Museum,
London, asks its Web visitors `Why woodlice? You
may think that, once you've seen one woodlouse,
you've seen them all'.
8
The museum urges young
scientists to help the museum-based scientist find out
how many different kinds of woodlice live in their
vicinity out of the 37 species of woodlice in the UK,
using a printable key, and to send in their results.The
National History Museum explains how scientists still
don't know everything about woodlice and this is
where you can help. Walking with Woodlice, inspired by
the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs, aims to get
children to take part in a nation-wide scientific study
to use the Internet to share scientific information, to
develop their scientific skills through challenging the
online results, and in doing so nurture an enthusiasm
for biodiversity.
Reaching out in a similar way to the community,
the Natural History Museum also gathers infor-
mation about herbal remedies, `not those from
ancient books or old scientific journals, but those
kept alive by word of mouth between generations',
according to the Country Cures Website explanation.
9
Visitors may then learn about a home cure that keeps
gnats away - as long as the person is prepared to
carry a sprig of basil (Ocimum basilicum) which
evidently, when eaten, produces a foul-smelling sweat
that insects don't like in the least.This particular
contributor, from Glamorgan, also claims that basil
has been traditionally used to keep mosquitoes away.
V
IRTUAL FABRIC
M
useums already welcome visitor participation,
and recognise that their contributions and
collaborations are invaluable. Hunting for treasure has
always been a popular hobby and every year amateur
archaeologists discover thousands of archaeological
objects using metal detectors.Through the Portable
Antiquities Scheme (PAS)
10
these objects are
reported, recorded and often included in museum
collections.
Opening at the British Museum, November
2003, the exhibition Buried treasure: Finding our past
11
showcases precious artefacts that have been disco-
vered by chance. Over the next few months these
treasures will go on tour and be displayed in four
major museums around the country. Not all
museum/public collaborations are quite as tangible.
Every Object Tells a Story illustrates a series of events
that took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum
over the summer of 2003 where visitors were able to
create their own artwork and upload to an especially
designed Website. Photostories
12
illustrates the stories
that adults and children wove around the collections
6
Peers, L.: Electronic
correspondence, 24
November 2003.
7
Latour, B.:We Have
Never Been Modern, trans.
Catherine Porter, New
York and London:
Harvester Wheatsheaf,
1993.
8
Walking with Woodlice,
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/
interactive/woodlice/
9
Country Cures,
http://internt.nhm.ac.uk/
cgi-bin/country_cures/
10
The Portable
Antiquities Scheme,
http://www.finds.org.uk
11
Buried treasure:
Finding our past,
http://www.thebritish
mu seum.ac.uk/
buriedtreasure/
12
Every Object Tells
A Story,
http://www.vam.ac.uk/
vastatic/microsites/
1303_every_object/
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