The Representation of Multiplicity as a Means to Digital Cultural Empowerment

workshop / tutorial
  1. 1. Hoeckendorff Mareike

    Universität Hamburg (University of Hamburg)

  2. 2. Valeria Vitale

    King's College London

  3. 3. Stuart Dunn

    King's College London

  4. 4. Evelyn Gius

    Universität Hamburg (University of Hamburg)

Work text
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This workshop is addressing the theme of DH 2014, “Digital Cultural Empowerment”, by discussing the multiplicities inherent to the representation of cultural heritage and exploring possible ways of dealing with them.

The representation of cultural heritage needs to face multiplicity in many ways: it has to deal with different layers of time (from past to present), different types of objects on different levels of reality (physical "real" artifacts, digital representations of it, hypotheses about them, fictional approaches etc.), and different views on it, depending on purpose, socialization, interests, knowledge etc. In many cases we even have to deal with things that existed in the past and now survive only in documentation, memory and/or imagination. On a more abstract level, then, the concept of multiplicity which we wish to explore is based on a definition of ‘culture’ as a dynamic experience.

On this backdrop empowerment means to represent and make accessible culture in a way that enables people to participate, to narrate their own story/stories about the represented, and to add their personal or professional interest and information. This is facilitated by the “empowerment” of cultural artifacts and practices: Pictures, stories, songs, movies and especially how people observe, describe and use artifacts, places etc. become equally valuable for the representation of culture.

Digital cultural empowerment thus means to represent cultural heritage in a multilayered way, enabling people to access different layers of raw data (images, literary texts, movies, music) as well as interpretations, mashups, comments and discussions. In a digital cultural environment people should both be enabled to passively explore what is exhibited and to actively use the data for their own narration about the represented—and even add more data and information.

Bringing the constructivist approach to a digital environment, the workshop thus aims to discuss projects that enable the users to actively participate, as single individuals as well as groups, to the process of the building of meaning, instead of passively consuming their own cultural heritage (Copeland 2004, Parry and Arbach 2009).

Our goal for the workshop is to tackle crucial issues in this context by engaging in an exchange with the participants. Presentations of approaches from various projects will boost the discussion of issues of multiplicity, representation, participation and information handling.

As a kickoff we will present two projects from the field and their approach to the addressed issues, afterwards we'll invite participants to present their approaches and to engage in discussions. The envisaged outcome of the workshop is a set of recommendations for digital cultural projects concerning the approach to issues of multiplicity, representation, participation and information handling described below.

The first exemplum project will be the efoto project, a cooperation between several cultural institutions in Hamburg and Hamburg University, brought into life by the Ministry for Cultural Affairs of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. The project deals with the urban space of the city of Hamburg represented by a huge supply of historic and contemporary photographies. efoto attempts to exemplify how the interactive use of digital media and services can enable the construction and discussion of individual and shared cultural experience, thus exploring and contributing to multiplicity at the same time.

efoto is based on Niklas Luhmann’s conception of culture as a stock of themes that encourages communication and motivates interaction on a reflective level (Luhmann 1987, 1995). One of the main goals of efoto is thus to proceed from the level of the purely visual “cityscapes” to an exchange about what constitutes the culture of the city of Hamburg.

The core implementation component of efoto1 is a digital database consisting of pictures of Hamburg, currently stored in numerous public and private archives, and metadata such as geoinformations. Image and text data, primary and metadata will be stored automatically and cross­linked so that they may be searched, combined and commented on according to user interests. This database will be enriched by several functionalities and services that enable users to participate in an open discourse on their urban living space. In order to achieve both—a high level professional database with a powerful intelligent search engine, and a multi­interest playground for leisurely use—three layers of data enrichment are anticipated. The first focuses on factual historical information, the second on personal experience based narratives and the third on the socio­cultural practices of reflexion and interaction which in Luhmann’s view is the essence of culture.

The second core component of efoto is a dedicated mobile application designed to support a wide range of use cases that contribute toward the main intention of the project ­ i.e. getting people to engage with cultural heritage in various ways, be they ‘virtual’ or ‘real’, ‘professional’ or ‘private’. These multiple ways in which app users can appropriate and enrich primary image data about Hamburg are conceptually rooted in the practices of social annotation, social storytelling and in the crowd sourcing of primary data. Through their combination in efoto the multiple cultural identities of the city of Hamburg will take shape as a lived, dynamic experience of culture rather than as a static piece of cultural knowledge.

The second project deals with the representation of archaeological heritage, more specifically with the Temple of Isis, in Pompeii. Here the digital project aims to apply multiplicity to address two main issues:

The first is the hypothetical nature of all visualisations of archaeological objects. Ancient buildings, with their decorations and artefacts, can only be inferred by material clues and historical knowledge. Every virtual unification and restoration is, thus, highly speculative, even when based on the most rigorous research. However, when a very detailed (and often realistic) visual outcome is presented to the public, this is assumed to be the only possible and/or correct reconstruction, especially if it is endorsed by authoritative cultural institutions such as universities or museums. Presenting more than one visual hypotheses (developed by different researchers or even by the same one) highlights that all questions about the ancient world have many possible and legitimate answers.

The second and closely related issue is the interpretation of the Past. During the last 250 years, Pompeii has generated a vast amount of verbal and visual interpretations. This chronological overview, shows the interpretative process as a work in progress that is always influenced by cultural and social variables, and that has many commonalities with the practice of story telling.

Creating a digital tool that makes available, for a piece of archaeological heritage, both multiple restoration hypotheses and multiple interpretations, aims to promote a more critical approach to cultural heritage, in which, ideally, the public doesn't receive a single, simplified and unsatisfactory piece of knowledge from «the experts», but is directly engaged (and challenged) with the complexity of the topic and invited to experiment with different combinations and different readings of the source information.

After the presentation of these two exemplary projects we will invite participants to present and discuss their own approaches, experiences and/or findings related to one ore more of the following issues addressed by both exemplum projects:

If we want to show the multiplicity every representation of culture has to deal with necessarily, we need to have answers to the following questions:

How should multiplicity be addressed (generally or specifically)? Which are the most important aspects of it?
Do we need to pre­define different levels of quality of the represented according to its configuration regarding multiplicity issues (e.g. reality status)?
How can we address the level of uncertainty connected to a certain cultural topic?
What about contestability: Can/should multiplicity be used as a means of challenging one narrative by reference to another?
Why does multiplicity matter?
Every digital system dealing with culture should address the multiplicity inherent to the representation of culture by its design:

Which tools are suitable for the visualization of which type of information?
How can we represent technologically uncertainties, fuzziness or even contradictions stemming from multiplicity?
Given we have a system that is capable of representing culture and its multiplicity in a conceptually and technologically adequate way:

How can we engage people to participate in this digital cultural environment?
What would participation mean then?
(How) Can a digital cultural environment empower citizens?
Information handling:
Enhancing the data collected and prepared in a prevalently scientific context with user generated content means to add a new layer that is even more complex. Moreover, the concept of multiplicity developed won’t be applicable to user generated content straight away:

How can we deal with user generated content? Do we have to treat it differently?
What tools are suitable for the extraction of information from the data, both provided and generated?
Workshop leaders:
Stuart Dunn, Centre for e­Research, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London

Stuart's main research interest lies in Digital Geography and data visualisation, including theoretical aspects of Virtual Reality and agency theory. He is interested in how people, location and pace interact, and how those interactions can be expressed digitally. Another closely related field of interest is the perception, representation and interpretation of past environments, and how these can be reconstituted digitally, without imposing arbitrary constructs that are not, or cannot, be supported by empirical data.

Evelyn Gius, Department of Language, Literatures and Media, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Evelyn is currently working on the Digital Metropoles Network project, aimed at uniting projects from Florence, London and Hamburg that give digital access to culture. Before that she was involved in the development of the intermedial blended learning course "NarrNetz". She has been part of the development team of the computer markup tool CATMA for the last six years, too, and is engaged now in application of it in the heureCLÉA project which is focussed at the detection of narratological phenomena related to time.

Mareike Höckendorff, Department of Language, Literatures and Media, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

is involved in the efoto project. Her research interest lies in cultural studies and contemporary literature and especially the relation between place, space and culture. In her PhD she analyses the representations of place in literature and how literature as cultural means takes part in the creation of atmospheric spaces in urban environments. Her case study is the city of Hamburg, her approach is to use digital tools and visualizations to transform a big amount of textual data into an easy to read interactive map showing the cultural landscape of the city in different stages of history.

Valeria Vitale, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London

a digital humanist specialised in virtual cultural heritage. Her main research interest is the representation of the Past, and the methodological issues connected to the visualisation of something that does not exist anymore in its materiality. She's currently working on a community­based ontology to document 3D visualisation for cultural heritage and display multiple reconstruction hypotheses for the same ancient object. In her PhD, she has recently started investigating the possible interactions between archaeological narratives and interpretations and 3D virtual environments. Her case study is the ancient city of Pompeii.

Workshop contact person:

Mareike Höckendorff

University of Hamburg

Department of Language, Literatures and Media

c/o Institute for German Literature and Language

Von­Melle­Park 6

20146 Hamburg

+49 40 42838­2312


Target audience and expected number of participants:
The main audience of this workshop are scholars engaged in digital cultural projects and/or the development of technological means designed to tackle the issues described. In our experience a broad variety of participant experience and background enhances the quality of the discussions significantly, therefore we strongly encourage people from all project sizes and career stages to register for this workshop.

Special requirements for technical support:
There are no special requirements.

Length of the workshop:
one day

Provisional format:
Introduction, overview of the workshop, outline of addressed issues
presentation of approaches from the efoto project
presentation of approaches from the Pompeij project
presentations by participants on projects (part 1)

presentations by participants on projects (part 2)
presentations by participants on possible approaches
discussion of the defined issues (in smaller groups or as plenary discussion, depending on interest
and number of participants)
wrap up discussion
Program committee:
Jannis Androutsopulos, Professor for German and Media Linguistics, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Stuart Dunn, Lecturer at the Centre for e­Research, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London

Alexandra Georgakopoulou, Professor of Discourse Analysis and Sociolinguistics, Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College London

Evelyn Gius, Research Assistant, Department of Language, Literatures and Media, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Mareike Höckendorff, Research Assistant, Department of Language, Literatures and Media, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Gertraud Koch, Professor for Folklore and Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Markus Kuhn, Professor for Media Studies, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Jan Christoph Meister, Professor for German Literature, Department of Language, Literatures and Media, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Hamburg

Horst Scholz, Head of the Department for Information Technology of the Cultural Ministry of Hamburg, project leader of efoto at the Cultural Ministry of Hamburg

Caja Thimm, Professor for Media Studies and Intermediality, University of Bonn

Valeria Vitale, Research student in Digital Humanities, King’s College London

Luhmann, Niklas (1987). Soziale Systeme: Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Luhmann, Niklas (1995). Die Kunst der Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Parry, Ross and Arbach, Nadia (2006). Localised, Personalised and Constructivist: A Space for On­Line Museum Learning. In Kenderline, S. and Cameron, F. (eds). Digital Cultural Heritage: a critical discourse. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press.

Copeland, Tim (2004). Presenting Archaeology to the Public. In Merriman, N. (ed). Public Archaeology. London/New York: Routledge.

http://www.efoto­ and­hamburg/ (last seen 2014­02.19).

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

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Conference website:

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None