The Journal of Material Culture is concerned with the relationship between artefacts and social relations irrespective of time and place and aims to systematically explore the linkage between the construction of social identities and the production and use of culture.

Special Edition edited by Amiria Salmond and Billie Lythberg

Introduction

Digital Subjects, Cultural Objects: Special Issue introduction
Amiria Salmond

Article Abstracts

Te Ataakura: Digital taonga and cultural innovation
Wayne Ngata, Hera Ngata-Gibson, and Amiria Salmond

The Te Ataakura project is among the latest in a series of initiatives undertaken by the Ma-ori tribal organization Toi Hauiti to revisit, rekindle and restore knowledge of their ancestral taonga (artefacts), many of which are now dispersed among collections throughout New Zealand and internationally. This article describes some of these earlier projects, which deployed digital technologies in innovative ways, as part of a broader strategy of artistic and economic revitalization. It outlines Toi Hauiti’s continuing efforts to build relationships with holding institutions at home and abroad, and to explore possibilities offered by recent technological developments. Setting this work in the context of similar initiatives on the part of other Ma-ori, with a focus on cultural revitalization and institutional collaboration, we consider the role of digitization in cultural endurance and dynamism, offering a critical view of emergent concepts including ‘digital taonga’ and ‘virtual repatriation’.

Taonga Moriori: Recording and revival
Maui Solomon and Susan Thorpe

Moriori culture is one of the most researched in the Pacific, and yet perhaps one of the least well understood. Until the last 30 or so years, history had consigned the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands near New Zealand to being defined as extinct and almost landless. Today Moriori are in a spirit of revival and reconnection with their identity and culture. Through the gift of the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP) software system, laser scanning of rākau momori (tree carvings), and involvement in the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Project, Moriori are developing an extensive database of cultural landscapes, elder stories, traditional practices and digital records of taonga. The next stage of this research will involve development of an intranet guide to taonga Moriori (ancestral artefacts) in overseas collections. Here we explore the methods and technology that Moriori have been using to assist in the process of preserving taonga for present and future generations to enjoy.

The real other? Museum objects in digital contact networks
Carl Hogsden and Emma K Poulter

What can museum objects do when they are placed within a digital contact network – a system made up of reciprocally linked but otherwise separate nodes in which control and ownership of content lies with each location? What new connections are enabled through the placement of objects within this contact network and what are the new understandings that result? Dynamics of access, ownership and meaning change when museum collections are transformed into digital forms, in ways that require the reconceptualization of digital objects and their relational capacities. In theory and in practice, the ‘real’ and the digital object are often framed as disconnected and oppositional entities, a separation that hinders approaches to, and uses of, digital forms. Using examples of recent projects at the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and at the British Museum, it is argued that digital contact networks enable the unique qualities of digital objects to come to the fore, providing platforms for effective engagement and digital reciprocation.

Old objects, new media: Historical collections, digitization and affect
Jenny Newell

Digital resources mobilized by museums, archives and other cultural heritage institutions are opening up collections and vistas onto the past from an increasing variety of perspectives. Digitization is enabling the juxtaposition of material from far-flung repositories and creating new ways of presenting historical insights as well as new types of historical engagements. New media can allow the assemblage of a multiplicity of voices, accounts, songs, and artworks, among other things – layers of meaning that are hard to capture and present in other formats, and which can be especially helpful in uncovering and accommodating non-Western perspectives. At the same time, the relationship of digital objects to ‘actual artefacts’ requires further consideration. This article investigates the implications of digitizing objects in cultural institutions, and the advantages and disadvantages of this process for those with differing interests in such objects. What are the effects for historical researchers, museum visitors or clan members with special ties to a museum artefact of viewing it on a screen rather than being in the object’s presence, holding, seeing, smelling and hearing it, and connecting with the ancestors or relationships it embodies? Case studies from the UK, Australia and the Pacific are explored to address aspects of the impact of digitization initiatives on museum practice and on people’s engagements with the past, with a focus on the affective qualities of digital objects.

Protecting indigenous cultural property in the age of digital democracy: Institutional and communal responses to Canadian First Nations and Māori heritage concerns
Deidre Brown and George Nicholas

This article presents a comparative study of how Canadian First Nations and New Zealand Māori peoples have employed digital technologies in the recording, reproduction, promotion and discussion of their cultural heritage. The authors explore a selection of First Nations and Māori initiatives that resist or creatively respond to the digitization and electronic dissemination of cultural ‘objects’, knowledges and landscapes as a continuation of social processes that have dynamically endured over more than two centuries. Their comparison also considers the limitations of conventional law in regard to the protection of indigenous cultural and intellectual property. Expressions of traditional knowledge and culture generally fall outside the protection of copyrights and patents, a situation that is often exacerbated when that heritage assumes digital forms.

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