Spirals: Metadata Politics on the 30th of April

26 Apr 2021
26 Apr 2021


The Centre for Curating the Archive invites you to the fifth session of the Spirals virtual seminar series, titled 'Metadata Politics'. Circulating ideas about art, art practise and archival engagement between two lively, dynamic, yet different global north and global south settings, the Spirals series draws Berlin based art practitioners, curators and scholars into conversation with scholars and students based in Cape Town. 

We are excited to host Dr Rebecca Kahn for this session. She is a REWIRE post-doctoral researcher in the Digital Humanities group at the University of Vienna. Her project explores how museums and archives are using the semantic web to build integrated collections, and the ethical and technological challenges presented by current data models. She is also an Associate Researcher at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin, where she worked on several linked data for cultural heritage projects. Her previous research has explored the intersections of heritage digitisation and national identity narratives in South Africa, Wales and Britain and the formation of memory in both the British Museum and the Schwules Museum, Berlin. She completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Rhodes University and Wits and her PhD at King’s College, London.

Her talk, based on a soon-to-be-published article, is titled Man, Woman, Other. It is concerned with the ethics and politics of museum metadata. This is not always immediately evident in museum collections, although arguably every object in a museum accumulates embedded and encoded politics at each phase of its journey into the collection, and after. Digitisation can expose these politics, as ever-larger virtual infrastructures promise interconnected and interlinked access to heritage collections online. On the one hand, these technologies have the potential to reunite scattered collections, democratise access and reveal hidden narratives. On the other, they also risk adding complicated, outdated and inaccurate metadata into the data ecosystem, without providing corresponding contextual information.

The talk will consider a small collection of drawings made by children, which were collected by a pioneering female anthropologist, and are now part of the collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology at the University of Oxford. This case study demonstrates how difficult metadata, usually buried deep in museum documentation, is brought to the surface by digitisation, and exposes the traumatic histories of a collection’s origins. 

We are delighted to have Debra Pryor, the digital archival content manager of the Five Hundred Year Archive digital project and research associate in the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, as our discussant.


Join us via Zoom on Friday 30 April, 3- 4:30pm (SAST) by following the Spirals Zoom link. (Meeting ID: 994 2352 7546 I Passcode: 984739)