Museum as Memoryscape: The Virtual Shtetl Portal of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews
This paper focuses on the Virtual Shtetl Portal of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (www.sztetl.org.pl). Virtual Shtetl utilizes a Web platform that enables registered users to participate in the sharing of memories, public history and other information relevant to the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage. It aims to transform the passive role of the museum visitor to that of an active stakeholder in the preservation of cultural heritage, in this case Jewish heritage closely linked to the Polish landscape.
The research upon which this study is based began during my fellowship at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland in 2008. My observations as a participant in the Virtual Shtetl Portal during its development are complemented by fieldwork which took place in 2009, 2010 and 2011. This research took the shape of formal interviews, surveys of the site‘s administrators, a breakdown of Google analytics of the site‘s first two years of running on the Web and textual analysis. A central framework for this research is the study of the museum as a memoryscape or portal through which societies remember the past and make sense of the present.
To contextualize the virtual museum, I begin with the virtuality of all museums as implied by Andre Malraux‘s concept of Museum without Walls and then proceed to consider why a project which inspires a cultural negotiation of memories on the Web can pluralize the experience of preserving the past in a unique way that is inclusive of a multitude of diverse perspectives and in this way, an extraordinary opportunity for international dialogue.