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    Patricia Keller

    Research interests include material culture research and pedagogy using Digital Humanities strategies. Ph.D., History of American Civilization Program, M.A., Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, both Univ. Delaware. Undergraduate Instructor, consulting museum curator. Oxford, Pennsylvania.

    My Posts

    Digital Material Culture Beyond Images: (How) Can We Digitize Materiality?

    Friday, March 19th, 2010 | MaterialCulture

    I am an objects person in love with stuff and all the ways it informs. I’m also an educator who’s passionate about empowering students to mine material culture as historic evidence. Third, I’m a museum person who works to empower others to understand objects as sources of meaning about the/their past, present, and future.

    I’m excited about projects applying digital technology to material culture, and recognize we’re just getting started. Objects in museum storage – and nearly all the wonderful stuff in private collections – are only occasionally on view in public spaces. The web affords a way to “exhibit” objects to a very wide audience, potentially reaching folks who might never be able to, or wish to, enter a museum or historical society door.

    Hmmmmm. Perhaps the enormity of the number of objects, public or private, for which digital images are yet to be made (let alone made available through a website) makes my discussion topic seem absurd, premature, even a bit ungrateful . . .

    But here goes.

    Viewing an object’s digital image – even a series of images showing the object 360̊ –
    is wonderful, a huge step forward, and gets us waaaaay down the path of accessibility. The problem I’m grappling with is that material culture is . . . well, material. I want to digitize objects’ materiality to teach with, learn from, analyze. Close, hands-on study of objects gives lots of cues and clues that would be terrific if somehow made available in the digital realm. Some are visual – patterns of wear-and tear, traces of the craftpersons’ hands, views in raking light; yet information also comes from other ways of perceiving: the heft, the surface temperature, the feel or texture (think velvet) – you get the idea.

    We learn a lot from this kind of evidence about objects’ materiality. How can we convey more of that materiality in the digital realm? Can we? Should we?

    So . . . I’m interested in talking about / brainstorming what we can do – and imagine what we might be able to think about doing, or try to do – with digital technologies (now and future) to convey these and other aspects of (virtual) materiality. What technology exists that could be adapted? What might be possible with technologies not yet invented – and how might they work? Can we go beyond visual toward the object, or is it more realistic to move away from the object to context?