Haidy Geismar, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University College London

Can you wear a digital cloak?

This talk starts with a cloak in a museum collection and with a question about how to wear it. One of two beautifully woven flax cloaks from Aotearoa New Zealand the cloak is now part of the UCL Ethnography collections. There is little provenance regarding the cloak. We do not know who bought it, or when, and we do not know exactly when it came into the Collections. It was originally catalogued, by Darryl Forde, along with many other textiles from the Pacific and around the world, using the classificatory framework of “I: Cloth, Clothes and Mats.” For many years the cloak was hidden away within a teaching collection – but was too large and fragile to be used in class. In this presentation I want to explore how the process of digitization may not only open access to museum collections but allow us to rethink the nature of museum objects, and by extension contribute to material culture studies, in profound ways. It is increasingly apparent that the process of digitization has cultural effects that continue to open up collections to new dialogues about meaning, ownership and access. At is smallest, this is a project that explores the nature of digital objects, and possibilities of connection through digital communication, and the expansion of community access to UCL’s collections. At its broadest I am starting to explore cultural theories of the digital, digital theories of the material (and material theories of the digital), and to develop a nascent phenomenology of digital objects as events or processes as well as forms.

All seminars in the series.