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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2007

Book Reviews

Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse

Ann Jensen
University of California
Berkeley, California

Copyright 2007, Ann Jensen. Used with permission.

Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse/ Edited by Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine. Boston: MIT Press, 2007. 465 pp. $40.00 ISBN 978-0-262-03353-4

The UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (2003) defined digital cultural heritage as "resources of information and creative expression...increasingly produced, distributed, accessed and maintained in digital form, creating a new legacy -- the digital heritage." This book, part of the MIT'S Media in Transition series, is a collection of essays that address how digital technologies transform traditional understandings and vocabulary of classical museum and cultural preservation disciplines. Fiona Cameron, a research fellow at the Center for Cultural Heritage at the University of West Sydney, Australia, and Sarah Kenderdine, Director of Special Projects, Museum Victoria, Melbourne, are the co-editors. Each has written, presented and worked extensively in museum studies in the digital age.

Meant as a text for undergraduate and postgraduate studies, it is highly theoretical. It presents opportunities for dialogue between the traditional and the digital, between objects and their virtual counterparts, and challenges its readers to consider digital cultural heritage as a new and distinctly unique form of cultural heritage.

The 30 contributed essays are international in scope and reflect diverse viewpoints and technical areas of focus. Concepts of authenticity, place, time, space, the past and the present, artifact, art and indigenous heritage in the digital world are explored within their new and changing implications for human interaction, learning, and exploration.

Essays in Part I, Replicants/Object Morphologies, discuss technology and culture as they exist in the representations of art and heritage collections. Essays in Part II, Knowledge Systems and Management -- Shifting Paradigms and Models, present ways in which new technologies create new challenges and opportunities for education, understanding, and audience connection. Part III, Cultural Heritage and Virtual Systems, discusses several models of scientific data and objects created with the technologies of virtual reality. Examples from archaeology, climatology, history, and museum studies are particularly accessible because of their more tangible dimensions and illustrations.

The essays are almost uniformly complex. They rely heavily on the jargon and technical vocabulary of their particular scholarly disciplines. This results in dense paragraphs and many difficult to read passages for the non-museum professional. All essays are extensively referenced, and pose as many questions as they provide concrete examples. High quality paper that lies heavily and evenly invites studious reading, as befits the density of the text. The index is good and the illustrations are clear and well captioned. Although it seems needlessly inaccessible to beginning scholars in the field, the volume in its entirety is an important contribution to the scholarly questions it raises.

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