The Dynamics of Scale in Digital Heritage Cultures [chapter]

Rhiannon Bettivia, Elizabeth Stainforth
2019 Politics of Scale  
In recent decades digital technologies have provided new methods for fostering engagement between cultural heritage organizations and their audiences. At the most basic level, this might involve accessing digitized heritage collections online. Increasingly, there is also an emphasis on reusing and remixing digital heritage content, which signals a shift in the positioning of audiences from cultural consumers to cultural producers (Beer and Burrows 2013). These examples demonstrate how the
more » ... cal structuring and communication of heritage collections can shape changes in contemporary heritage management and in practices such as collection, preservation, presentation and interpretation. In this chapter, we investigate the scalar politics of networked digital heritage through examination of the large-scale heritage aggregators Europeana and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Here, the term aggregator refers to an organization that collects, formats and manages digital data from multiple providers, and offers federated access to that data via services like online portals (Europeana 2016). Digital aggregators, because of their nebulous geographic location, complicate heritage debates around local, national and transnational scales, especially those that assume the recuperative potential of heritage projects rests in specific localities (Arantes 2007; Coombe and Weiss 2015) . Such geographical scaling is troubled by the distributed structures of digital aggregators, which are not spatially bounded in the same way. Europeana and the DPLA provide an opening for further discussion of these issues. The former is comprised of a database and website that offers access to digitized items from over 2500 of Europe's museums, libraries and archives. The latter, more recent, project is based around a similar model but operates at a national rather than a supranational scale and promotes public access through forging relationships across a range of American libraries and 2 smaller public organizations. It is funded by a combination of US government grant agencies and private research foundations (Darnton 2013). We begin by outlining our approach to scale, informed by the work of Michel Foucault and Tony Bennett, and then go on to assess the technical elements of Europeana and the DPLA in more detail with reference to the policy and strategic planning documents of both projects. We analyze these in relation to the universal ideas they express, namely Europe and the public. We conclude with some reflections on scale and the implications of heritage aggregators for digital heritage cultures. Scale and Governmentality In line with the aims of this volume, our examination of digital heritage aggregators will highlight the political dimensions of scale and the interconnectedness of scalar entities, through recourse to Foucauldian scholarship on power/knowledge formations. Much of Foucault's later writing on governmental rationality, or governmentality, explored these formations. In a 1982 lecture series, he explained, 'the contact between technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call governmentality' (Foucault [1982] 1988: 19). Colin Gordon elaborates on this description, explaining practices of government as follows: Government as an activity could concern the relation between self and self, private interpersonal relations within social institutions and communities and, finally, relations concerned with the exercise of political sovereignty. Foucault was crucially interested in the interconnections between these different forms and meanings of government. (Gordon 1991: 2 -3) Foucault's work has been influential across a number of disciplines and now comprises a field of inquiry in its own right, loosely labelled governmentality studies. In the realm of cultural studies, too, his approach has been taken up by scholars researching policy and administration. Foremost among these is Bennett, an Australian scholar, whose work on the relations between 3 knowledge practices and governmentality has made a significant contribution to cultural heritage debates, particularly regarding the institution of the museum. Bennett (1990) observes how historical sciences such as anthropology guided museological techniques in the nineteenth century, as part of the development of modern modes of liberal government, and stresses the disparity between the museum's democratic rhetoric and the rationality of public instruction constituted in its functioning. In broader terms, his work is directed towards understanding the concept and logic of culture, based on Foucault's methodological principles. In his 2013 publication, Making Culture, Changing Society, Bennett distinguishes the emergence of culture as a 'complex': The culture complex ... is, the public ordering of the relations between particular kinds of knowledges, texts, objects, techniques, technologies and humans arising from the deployment of the modern cultural disciplines (literature, aesthetics, art history, folk studies, drama, heritage studies, cultural and media studies) in a connected set of the apparatuses (museums, libraries, cinema, broadcasting, heritage sites, etc.) ... This complex consists in its organisation of specific forms of action whose exercise and development has been connected to those ways of intervening in the conduct of conduct that Foucault calls governmental. (Bennett 2013: 14) Bennett's approach is instructive; in applying governmentality to the analysis of culture, he provides a means of investigating the ways in which specific forms of knowledge and expertise give rise to mechanisms, techniques and technologies for the practice of government. This focus is important insofar as our discussion focuses on the practices underpinning notions of 'Europeanness' and 'publicness' in the case studies. Moreover, Bennett's utilization of governmentality supports analysis across the multiple relational sites and contexts of heritage aggregators. Our inquiry into these aggregators is concerned with both their technological 4 features and the multiplicity of their scalar manifestations, which the governmentality perspective addresses. Also important is Foucault's (1979) identification of practices of government that function via the mutually reinforcing relation of 'all and each'. The presupposition of relative autonomy underpins governmental practice and is at once individualizing and totalizing, operating at both micro and macro levels. 1 Recognition of this mutually reinforcing relation acts as a useful corrective to scholarly critiques of state-sanctioned heritage regimes, which are often situated in opposition to local traditions or personal experiences. As David C. Harvey (2015: 589) cautions, 'it is crucial that we should understand the spatialised geometries of power rather than be blinded by any warming glow of localness'. An analytics of government (Dean 1999) in the vein of the approach we have described, positions practices of state and institutional control within a wider framework of practices of self-regulation and differentiation. Furthermore, the move of all and each speaks to our specific concerns about the scalar logic of digital heritage aggregators, which are premised on the empowerment of the user through the centralization of resources in a widely accessible format. This relationship will be explored in more detail below. Europeana and the DPLA The emergence of large-scale heritage aggregators such as Europeana and the DPLA has, on one level, been facilitated by the networked structure of the Internet, and signals a move towards the standardization of digitized material from across different cultural heritage collections (e.g. those of museums, libraries and archives). The technical metaphors aligned with this model of organization have been traced in a number of ways by media theorists, perhaps most famously by Lev Manovich in the designation of the database as a cultural form; he suggests that the database, through the various non-sequential operations it can perform, offers new ways of 5 structuring knowledge beyond traditional narrative forms (Manovich 1999). Geoffrey C. Bowker proposes a qualification to Manovich's theory, indicating that computerized databases are the outgrowth of a longer movement towards standardization and universal classification, which began in the nineteenth century. He writes that contemporary practices are characterized by the 'greatly increased centrality of the past for the operation of the state ... and greatly increased technical facilities for such reworking (of the past) with the development of database technology' (Bowker 2005: 32). Europeana and the DPLA both utilize database technology.
doi:10.2307/j.ctv12pnscx.8 fatcat:6hy5kohxqnevpldzd57c3pkkvq