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Postcolonial Digital Connections
This anthropological research project examines the impact of digitization processes in ethnographic collections and archives in transcultural contexts. Based on statements and expectations of access, networking, and international reconnection to the countries in which the ethnographic photographs and objects are created, the project asks if and how new forms of exchange and interactions can actually emerge on the basis of digital collections. How do digital archives influence the way people relate to (digitized) cultural heritage? How does digital availability change the understanding and usage of preserved material artefacts and the historical information? Do digital online archives lead to an empowerment, comparable to that of the ‘visual return’?
The project analyses the sociopolitical and sociocultural effects of digitization projects on the basis of two case studies as it looks at Indian so-called ‘source communities and German-speaking heritage institutions. It explores how selected actors in India and Europe are brought together through new forms of archival knowledge transfer and examines how re-circulated images get entangled with dominant knowledge claims, and how emerging forms of knowledge are negotiated or visualised in post-ethnographic moments.
The theoretical basis is Clifford’s (1997) adaptation of Pratt’s contact zone concept to museums, and the idea of archives as potential tools of dialogue and communication (Zeitlyn 2012). The term contact zone is applied to digital collections and archives and enables an analysis of Internet-based appropriations regarding in their societal, political and historical framework. Digital archives are conceptualized here as extended social areas of action that are able to be the space of new negotiations on an intercultural level if working with transnational cultural heritage. They offer not only access to cultural heritage and means of cultural production, but also the possibility to scrutinize existing hierarchies and visual economies.

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