Christoph Bareither & Sharon Macdonald: Curating Digital Images

von | Mai 14, 2020

Curating Digital Images: Ethnographic Perspectives on the Affordances of Digital Images in Heritage and Museum Contexts

The DFG-funded research project “Curating Digital Images:  Ethnographic Perspectives on the Affordances of Digital Images in Heritage and Museum Contexts” brings ethnographic perspectives to bear on practices of digital curation in museums and heritage. The project is based at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and located within the DFG priority programme “Das digitale Bild” / “The Digital Image”. With its main applicants being Christoph Bareither and Sharon Macdonald, it couples the research expertise of CARMAH with perspectives and approaches of media and digital anthropology, as well as information science, with Elke Greifeneder as project co-applicant.

The key theoretical perspective of the project draws on affordance theories to explore how the digital image, through its specific practice-potentials and practice-restrictions, affords particular practices of digital curation. The project is not only interested in the curation practices of professionals here, but is specifically interested in the practices of digital curation enacted by laypeople whose experiences in the context of museums and heritage are significantly transformed through the digital image. Two interconnected empirical studies explore these transformations ethnographically. The first study, conducted by Katharina Geis, examines how users of digital image archives and virtual museums view, search, sort, alter and creatively rearrange digital images and for what purposes. The second study, conducted by Sarah Ullrich, concentrates on the digital image practices and social media activity of museum and heritage visitors. The two ethnographic studies will be enhanced through an eye-tracking study, conducted by Vera Hillebrand at the iLab at the Berlin School of Library and Information Science, which will demonstrate the potential of methodological innovation at the intersection of ethnography and information science. The work of the researchers is supported by student assistant Tabea Rossol.

Besides providing new empirical insights of value for both research and practice, the project will make a significant contribution to the conceptual and theoretical debates of the DFG priority programme “The Digital Image”. From an ethnographic perspective, the particularities of the digital image – and therefore its theory – can only be understood in relation to the practices surrounding and enacting such images. Thus, the question “What is the digital image?” is not to be answered by theory and by examination of the images alone but is, crucially, about their lives in use.

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