Week 4 Blog

Charles Zange argues that museums can play a bigger role in connecting the general public to community-makers and their community-driven digital projects, which are political endeavors, in a sense, of promoting one narrative over competing ones. He also suggests that museums and community-makers collaborate on projects to give their works the wide exposure they need. However, that many of us think that museum exhibition is a zero-sum game of sorts; giving space to one group deprives another of the chance to display their objects. Therefore, it is essential for museums to distinguish themselves as an objective third-party. One way of achieving this is by letting the community members speak for themselves so that they don’t misconstrue their narrative.

One example of such attempt is shown by the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), an online collection of digitized items that testify to the rich South Asian culture in American society. It is crowd-sourced, meaning members of the community contribute to the expanding collection of items. For viewers, such narrative has more value and credibility, given that they’re hearing the story directly from the person who has a personal connection with the item. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that people’s memories fade. Oral stories, especially, have the tendency to get modified as they are told over time. The storytellers themselves may only be left with a vague feeling or impression of what happened in the past, which begs the question, is their story true? Museums can bolster the individual efforts of these communities and bolster their narratives in clarity and credibility by using their vast network and resources to fill in the holes and gaps. In a sense, museums can play a bigger role than simply connect. They can provide viewers with a more immersive and valuable experience by helping these communities build a stronger case for their narrative.

6 thoughts on “Week 4 Blog”

  1. I remember looking at this database and being really fascinated by the use of personal account to contextualize historical events from a different perspective other than that of the normal textbooks. I love that you bring up the idea of museums potentially collaborating with smaller cultural groups like this to fill in the gaps these personal accounts may have with their own valuable resources to make it even more compelling.

  2. I enjoy your post, and agree with the idea that large museum institutions can enhance experiences by starting these collaborative-community driven projects. SAADA, I feel, is a successful example of this process, even though they are still quite small in comparison to museums that employ narratives based off of observations from cataloguers, which in a sense makes it something other than the plain truth of objects. Hopefully we can see more of SAADA-like work in the future, or we’re most likely going to pioneer this movement as digital humanists.

  3. I think museums can definitely use collaborative-community driven projects to enhance the user experience, as well as get a greater understanding of these cultures and their people. For me, it almost acts like a way for the museum to admit that they don’t know everything, but it’s also a great way for them to collect data. I hope to see more and more museums employing the SAADA-like work, because it would give museums another layer of depth/dimension, and change our experience as viewers, as well.

  4. I really like the concept of collaborating in a museum setting. Oftentimes, artifacts displayed at a museum are only pieces of a bigger picture. They give guests an idea of that civilization’s culture, but definitely not the full story. By collaborating with cultural groups to fill in the gaps, there is a benefit to both the museum and cultural group.

  5. I’m going to play devils advocate here. Even if the museum allows the native culture to contextualize a particular exhibit, or artifacts of a particular culture, they have still created an “other” within the museum. Is it truly possible to eliminate this? Also, keep in mind that there is a difference between history and heritage. Heritage doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be believed.

  6. I really liked your post about SAADA, I thought the idea of combining museum work with smaller collaborations with communities could really enhance the cultural seen in museums.

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