background image
the American literary theorist Stanley Fish calls
`interpretive communities',
communities that coal-
esce around a certain reading of a (literary) text in
Fish's case, or, where museums are concerned, around
a specific theme represented through the museum
collections, an opportunity to pursue lifelong lear-
ning in a culturally satisfying exchange.
Archives, libraries and museums can harness virtual
communities to build new synergies around these
shared interests. As collections become accessible
online, members of a community including
museum-based curators and educators, alongside
the remote visitors may all share and contribute
their own knowledge and narratives to the
communal knowledge base.Virtual communities
can be instrumental in expanding the knowledge
woven around the objects that surround us in daily
life, or in collating scientific data distributed over
vast geographic distances.
The traditional mandate of the museum is to
preserve, display and interpret extraordinary objects.
A virtual community is a space where people can
bring in their own objects and, with these (digital)
surrogates, their own interpretations. A virtual
community however cannot replace a museum when
it comes to the singular and extraordinary objects,
but it can be instrumental in collecting digital
artefacts or scientific data, giving meaning to them
and thus building on and enriching shared
knowledge and community narratives. Reversing the
traditional relationship of museum and visitor,
museums can build horizontal fraternities allowing
leadership to shift from one participant to the next
where the community is predicated on the offering
(and accepting) of each other's views seriously.This
is the essence of a socially driven virtual community,
a democratic space where everybody can become an
expert and where each member may learn from one
useums are already drawing from their online
constituencies as resources for different kinds
of explorations and participatory activities. Moving
a partnership of 30 heritage institutions across
the UK, explores records and collates why Carib-
bean, Irish, Jewish and South Asian people came to
England over the last two centuries.This evolving
fraternity reverses the role of curated and curatee,
granting everyone with a journey to share an
opportunity to contribute his or her own story
using an intuitively designed Web-based upload.
The idea that this is a space for anyone to participate
in is reiterated by the invitation `Your life is history.
Your experiences are history.Your story is history'.
Benedict Anderson
describes three institutions
that contribute to the formulation of the national
imagination the map, the census and the museum.
Each one enables the citizen to imagine the para-
meters of his or her nation, and each institution, in
its own way, sanctions a national history.The Moving
Here project opens up many questions about who
may participate in the narration of history, who may
author national narratives, and who is authorised to
compile them for the national memory. Museums,
libraries and archives are the acknowledged compilers
and preservers of national narratives for society and
this kind of authorship reflects a more porous kind of
gated community and new opportunities not just for
access to holdings, but for individuals to actually
author histories and narratives and deliver them
directly into the belly of the institution.
Like histories, knowledge is a valuable and
powerful commodity, especially once it is free
from the restrictions of the traditional tethering of
institutions like archives, libraries and museums.
Unlike the Moving Here fraternity, not all
communities are willing to reveal and exchange
knowledge quite so freely. Laura Peers, lecturer
and curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University
Fish, Stanley: Is There a
Text in This Class?:The
Authority of Interpretive
Communities. Cambridge:
Harvard University
Press, 1980.
Moving Here,
Anderson, B.: Imagined
Communities. London:
Verso 1991.
From: Memories From the
Islands: Market, story
contributed to Moving
Here by Haringey
University of Third Age,
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