Museums and the Web

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Museums, Contact Zones and the Internet

TitleMuseums, Contact Zones and the Internet
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsGere, C.
Secondary TitleMuseum Interactive Multimedia 1997: cultural heritage systems design and interfaces. Selected Papers from ichim97
Conference Start Date1-5 September
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedLe Louvre, Paris, France
Keywordscultural encounters, human communication, James Clifford, knowledge negotiation, sociology of virrual visits

In a paper recently delivered at the Open University in the UK in 1996. Professor James Clifford proposed the idea of 'museums as contact zones'. The term 'contact zone' comes from the writing of Mary Lousie Pratt, and refers to the space of colonial encounters. Professor Clifford uses this term to rethink the museum's role in relation to other cultures. His intention is to challenge and rework that relationship, which is normally perceived as that of one-sided imperialist appropriation. He proposes instead that the museum can become a space which benefits both it and the cultures whose artifacts it shows. In Clifford's model these cultures can exploit the museum as much as themuseum exploits them. In my paper I suggest that, whether consciously or not on Professor Clifford's part, this idea owes much to the model of communicativity offered by the Internet and the Worldwide Web. The Net and the Web offer powerful new paradigms of communication and media distribution. Instead of the unidirectional model of, for example, television. the Web in particular offers the possibility of interactive engagement with the media. Clifford's model of the museum. like the Web. is a space of exchange, negotiation and communication. I argue that this is far more problematic than it might appear, and raises issues of mediation, access and conaol. By juxtaposing Professor Clifford's ideas with issues around new media, critical questions can be asked about both the contemporary role of museums in an age of information, and about the use of new media in the representation of material culture.