In Orbit: Distributed Curatorial Agency when Museum Objects and Knowledge go Online

Medeltida hängsmycken i silver.
Photo: Gabriel Hildebrand / Swedish history museum

This project studies processes of selection and interpretation when museum collections go online. We explore the museums authority and the public's agency when curatorial operations such as selection, organization, synthesis and exhibition of meaningful pasts are distributed between people and technology.

The authentic object forms the base of the museum s knowledge and communication. With digitization new assemblages of digital codes, aesthetics, heritage values, copyrights, social practices, political opinions and personal values enter the scene. Upon entering the public sphere and becoming a part of agendas and opinion-making, objects and knowledge may become contentious and debated.

The project has three phases bound together by conceptual and methodological development. Fieldwork at Sweden’s Historical Museum (Historiska museet) will bring to the fore emerging forms of curatorial agency within the museum, as well as how museum visitors circulate images of objects in social media. The next phase examines the sharing of digital representations of museum objects in, e.g., Youtube, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest. Human and computational processes are traced through the effects they have on selection and viewing. The third and final year will bring together and juxtapose a series of cases that analyze curatorial agencies of museum staff, audiences, objects and technologies and shed light on digitization’s implied promise of a more democratic heritage.

The project is financed by Riksbankens jubileumsfond (RJ) and is a cooperation with The Swedish History Museum. The project is active from 2017 to 2021.

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