Web-enriched Heritage in the Pipelines Corridor: Contested Histories from the Caspian to the Mediterranean
This paper discusses an innovative, international, collaborative approach that we used to present and interpret archeological data found along the length of the BTC and SCP oil and gas pipelines (the “pipelines corridor”) from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan through the Republic of Georgia to the port of Ceyhan, Turkey, on the Mediterranean Sea. The Smithsonian’s “AGT Project” (Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey Cultural Heritage Project) is a new international collaboration encompassing a multilingual website hosting reports of archeological investigations (in original languages and English translations), a database of archeological finds in each country, and a peer-reviewed online publication offering new interpretations of the cultural history of this pivotally important region at the juncture of Europe and Asia. The overall project encompasses archeology, ethnography, and museum capacity development. Researchers at the Smithsonian’s Asian Cultural History Program, and from other Smithsonian offices, work closely with counterpart institutions in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey – including the Gobustan National Historic and Artistic Preserve, the Azerbaijan Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and the Georgian National Museum, to highlight the richly layered material heritage of central Eurasia. We balance updated best-practice web standards with practical considerations of technical web-viewing capabilities and local user expectations in the region. Thanks to support from BP (Caspian), the project has produced, in addition to the AGT website (www.agt.si.edu) two bilingual editions of a printed book on archeological finds along the transect of the oil and gas pipelines, hosted a scholarly conference in Baku, and conducted numerous web-enhanced museum capacity building seminars and museum professional training programs. This research and capacity-building program represents a potential model for future cultural preservation projects associated with mega-infrastructure developments (pipelines, road-building, dam construction, etc.), especially those crossing international boundaries in countries whose national traditions of archeology and history provide contested or very differing interpretations of the materials uncovered.
Our web presentation of interpretive narratives, supplemented by translations of the original site reports and a new database of objects found, contrasts markedly with other presentations in this field. We include and cross-reference all sites throughout the pipelines corridor, in contrast to presentations about individual sites. The website and the accompanying multi-lingual books attempt to present and reconcile (where possible) the diverse and contesting national historical narratives (located for example on websites in each country of the region). We attempt to balance a user-friendly presentation of narratives with an extensive database for scholars, rather than present just a narrative or just a database. The paper concludes by discussing some challenges faced by efforts to impartially present a broad regional history on the Web, as these challenges are expressed in design elements, images, and structural organization as well as the choice of content presented. Digital publications provide unique means to present and compare contrasting historical narratives or interpretations of the data.