Cultural Heritage Informatics as Rhetorical Praxis
As a digital literacies and cultural rhetorics researcher, I came to the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship interested in developing the skills to hack (build) and not just yak (talk about). In other words, I was interested in how designing the experience and experiencing the design come to be pedagogical moments. How do these experiences illuminate facets of knowing and coming to know content, and heritage for that matter, differently? Like many CHI fellows, I was unsure what cultural heritage informatics was. Who is it for? What does it do? In one of our earliest meetings, Ethan, drawing from Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing, highlighted that informatics was “the creative application of information, communication, and computing technologies to ________________.” Hence, cultural heritage informatics, if we take this working definition, is the creative application of information, communication and computing technologies to cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage informatics, I would argue, is the nexus between digital and cultural rhetorics. As Samuels and Rico (2015) explain in their Heritage Keywords: Rhetoric and Redescription in Cultural Heritage, understanding rhetoric as cultural heritage mobilizes “within a wide array of social, political, economic, and moral contexts where it gives persuasive force to particular standpoints, perspectives, and claims” (p. 4). Cultural heritage, through a rhetorical lens, examines the affordances and delivery of mobilization and action. I would contend that cultural heritage informatics is a focusing device, one that charts possible action and seeks to launch that action through the digital application of new technologies and communicative landscapes. Cultural heritage informatics draws on the past (heritage) to suggest, build, and architect new social formations (digital rhetorics) for the future. But how do we qualify “cultural heritage?” What is its genealogy?
The UNESCO 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage took cultural heritage, quite simply, to mean monuments, sites, and buildings. These categories of “immovable cultural heritage” stood in contrast to what UNESCO then called “cultural property (e.g., paintings, manuscripts, coins, etc.). By 2003, however, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage extended their concept. Cultural heritage came to include “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills” as well as “the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith” (Article II.I). Thus, cultural heritage came to be seen as something that individuals and communities could sustain, something that should be shared with future generations. I would assert, however, that cultural heritage, with the “informatics” descriptor added to it, is also a rich site for pedagogical praxis, a locating mechanism for teaching, learning, and listening with communities and technologies.
Interested in how writing moves, my own work with cultural heritage informatics takes the latter definition of cultural heritage (e.g., expressions, cultural spaces, etc.) to examine how sound attunes us towards understandings of writing community. Curious how we “hear” and “write” difference, I am interested in interrogating how soundscapes of the everyday may capture the rhetorical features of cultural heritage. Hoping to build a participatory network for youth writers around the world, my project this year, tentatively titled #hearmyhome, seeks to not only yak (talk) about composing culture with sound, but to hack (build, fail, etc.) and design a pedagogical knowledge base and archive for writers to speak, compose, and listen to one another across the globe. Cultural heritage informatics, for me, is a site of transformative learning. An apt example of engaging in the Freirian praxis of theory, application, evaluation and reflection, cultural heritage informatics asks individuals to make, break, and hack cultures of yesterday and today as we mobilize for sustaining cultures into tomorrow.