Archives & Museum Informatics
2008 Murray Ave.,
Suite D
Pittsburgh, PA
15217 USA



Join our Mailing List.


Cultural Authenticity in a Digital World

Jane Sledge , National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, USA
Peter Samis , San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), USA
Costis Dallas , Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alternate Minister's Cabinet, Greece
Jennifer Trant , Art Museum Image Consortium, USA

Session: Opening Plenary

As digital representations become more realistic and full-audio three-dimensional virtual experiences become part of our interpretive tool set, cultural heritage professionals are faced with increasingly pressing issues of authenticity. How can we engage and entertain our visitors, while trying to interest and educate them, without doing a disservice to the artifacts in our care?

Participants in this panel have played the roles of curators, artists, archaeologists, cultural documentation specialists and policy makers, often wearing multiple hats. Using real examples, they will explore the challenges to the 'authentic' posed by interactive multimedia.

Consider these issues:

  • If the example we have in our collection is not fully documented, or doesn't represent the archetypical form well, should we enhance the digital representation for educational purposes? How are the facts of our individual vase be represented in an exhibition on pottery making over the ages?

  • If our intention is to give a visitor a sense of having experienced a medieval village, where do we put the "footnotes" and "label copy"?

  • What is the 'best' way to depict an object? Is a photographic image of a painting more "authentic" than an X-radiograph, an infrared picture, or a raking light image of the same artwork?

  • How do we interpret complex objects, without making them overly simplified? Where's the balance between the authentic and scholarly and the understandable and appealing?

  • How does the intention of an artifact's creator get communicated to the museum visitor? And whose story is it anyway? When the meaning of a cultural object is claimed by the community from which it came, who provides the 'legitimate' interpretation ? What role do curators play in presenting it?

  • Considering the broadening horizons and meanings of "representation", to what extent is the "authentic" the same as the "real", or the "empirical"; or, the "original" differentiated from the "replica", the "representation", or the "surrogate"?

  • How can we trust, or know to dis-trust, the virtual heritage objects that we find on the Internet, in publications and in museum galleries? How can we tell the facts from the reconstructions and the representations?

These reflections on authenticity presage a theme that runs throughout ichim99. How do we make sure that the virtual doesn't obscure the real?