background image
DigiCULT 37
he action leading to the UNESCO Convention
on Intangible Cultural Heritage had been under
way for quite some time and the heritage sector
NGOs had begun considering means for accommo-
dating such property well before the formal adoption
of the Convention. At its latest triennial General
Assembly in Barcelona, in 2001, the International
Council of Museums (ICOM) expanded its defini-
tion of `museum' to include `cultural centres and
other entities that facilitate the preservation, contin-
uation and management of tangible or intangible
heritage resources (living heritage and digital creative
activity)'. Although this wording does not make
explicit reference to born-digital action, it was
deliberately crafted to be inclusive of it.
With this,
hooks were coincidentally in place for the consider-
ation of the issues subsequently to be delineated
in the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of the
Digital Heritage.
Despite the presence of museums at the absolute
forefront of digital activity, a large segment of the
professional community takes the concept of `digital'
exclusively to denote digitised surrogates for physical
objects.The Internet is in widespread use for the
dissemination of such material. It has, however, by no
means as clearly been recognised as a creative arena in
its own right, where new kinds of activities take place
independent of the institutional constructs of the
physical realm.
Where digital creative works are duly recognised
as a museum concern, the situation is reversed.
A physical surrogate is made of the born-digital
thing, thereby migrating it into the realm of the
tangible, where its conservation and curation can be
addressed in familiar terms.The fact remains, though,
that, whatever significance a storage medium may
have in museum participation in intangible creative
activity, at some point the recording whether it is
a magnetically stored sequence of 0's and 1's or the
spiral groove on a vinyl disc needs to be rendered
intangible again in order to be experienced.
There is nothing earth shattering about the prece-
ding statement. Any number of museums comfortably
conduct activity in both the physical and digital
realms and those that do not are likely to anticipate
the expansion with some eagerness.The primary
motivating force is, however, most likely to be
harnessing the radically extended outreach that the
Internet enables.The term `virtual museum' is often
used to distinguish between a bricks-and-mortar
museum and the digital projection of its activities.
Maintaining a presence on the Internet may be a
core museum activity but, for some reason, an
appellative distinction is still felt to be necessary
and often causes much confusion.
ll that has been said thus far is based on
perspectives of the museum community in
the centuries-old stable sense of the term.The
Internet is, however, most decidedly not a product
of that community.The architectural forces that
underlie the Net were not conceived in anything
even vaguely related to heritage management.
Although measured in decades, rather than centuries,
the history of the Internet's development has seen its
significance expand into one fundamental aspect of
human activity after the other.This has, for quite
some time, included the presentation of information
about heritage.The Net is also a vibrant arena for
boundless creative activity, much of which may
arguably be seen as intangible cultural property in
the born-digital sense discussed above.
This action is as clearly a statement of Internet
community as anything else described here may be
a statement of museum community. Both are digital
communities and many concerns are shared across
their boundary.The full synergistic potential of their
co-ordinated action is, however, far from being
recognised and even farther from being utilised.
There are individuals and agencies in the Internet
community with a keen interest in the presentation
of heritage material but without any familiarity with
the values and practices of traditional heritage
management institutions. `Virtual museum' is also
an obvious and frequently used metaphor in non-
establishment contexts. It is not possible to know the
origin of any given one of the virtual museums that
abound on the Net without considering more than
its designation.
The museum establishment is divided in its
response to this. Positions range from a blanket
dismissal of the legitimacy of anything calling itself
a virtual museum but not operated by a bricks-and-
mortar museum, to recognition of the need for
defining the essential attributes of museum activity
independently of physical locus.This has now been
extended to include action conducted exclusively on
the Internet. Intangible creative activity has deve-
loped its own equally intangible organisational
infrastructures. Members of the traditional museum
community variously perceive this as a threat or a
Full definition at:
Digicult_THI5_JS_090104 09.01.2004 14:33 Uhr Seite 37