DH Reads

DH Read: “Digitization ≠ Repatriation: When Digital Humanities Provides Access But Not Restitution”

In this follow-up blog post to an article on Hyperallergic, Sarah E. Bond argues that:

An examination of the Ethiopian cultural heritage held in the libraries and museums of Britain can perhaps demonstrate a seminal point about digitization and the digital humanities more broadly: Digital editions can never fully replace an analog object. No matter how many manuscripts we digitize and make available online or 3D scans we create of the Parthenon frieze, they are not a replacement for repatriation.

Bond is not arguing against digital editions and digitization but expressing concern “that some are using digital humanities projects as a replacement–a half-hearted apology– for the act of physical repatriation.” She references NAGPRA and the fact there is no international equivalent (“but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be,” she adds). As Bond explains, “To my mind, no digital humanities projects will ever be able to make amends fully. As we learned with NAGPRA here in the U.S., part of acknowledging our mistakes is giving oppressed groups agency over their own cultural heritage.” This last point is crucial: digitization ≠ repatriation and access ≠ agency (as Bond points out, digitization does not even necessarily create access). We need to evaluate digital humanities projects with this in mind.

Read the original Editors’ Choice piece here.

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