Island 84

The Challenges of Cultural Heritage from Colonial Contexts
  • The project curates the Speiser collection in the Museum der Kulturen in order to provide a research infrastructure that encourages participation and initiates a dialogue characterized by relational ethics. Between 1910 and 1912 Speiser travelled to the various islands of Vanuatu in the South Pacific and returned with over 3000 objects, 1500 glass plate photographs, and rich scientific records. «Island 84», therefore, responds to the challenge many European/Western GLAM institutions face: How to deal appropriately with cultural heritage that is entangled with European history of colonialism and racism? How can inherent responsibilities be taken constructively and beyond polemics, and what can digital technologies contribute to that? «Island 84» represents the space where the cultural heritage outside the 83 islands of today’s State of Vanuatu are made accessible online, can be discussed together with the communities of origin, and be researched in a respectful way and for the benefit of anybody engaged and involved.
  • Start: 2022, End: 2024
  • Project URL: coming soon

Island 84 represents the space in which the cultural heritage outside the 83 islands of the state of Vanuatu can be responsibly managed so that this heritage can be made accessible for international research and across disciplinary boundaries. In addition to the digitisation of artefacts, photographs and study materials, the focus is on data curation and the development of a digital interface. To encourage participation and start a dialogue, we use local context labels. On the one hand, this transfers to communities of origin the authority to interpret and decide how digital resources can be shown, made accessible and re-used on the internet. On the other hand, the Museum der Kulturen understands the results of this symmetrical dialogue as a contemporary component of museum knowledge production.

On the basis of Speiser's documentation and more recent research, the objects in the collection can be linked with geodata (use +/- to zoom) and their origin or the place of their acquisition by Speiser can be visualised. The planned website allows comments to be made, which are stored as object metadata and can expand knowledge about specific objects and materials as well as about the entire collection. Finally, local context labels allow the collection holdings to be viewed and made available as a digital resource according to traditional knowledge and with due respect towards local communities, their traditions and sensibilities (image blurred on purpose). This makes «Island 84» a collaborative tool that can be used in field research as well as in everyday museum work.

Project Lead: Lucas Burkart, Peter Fornaro, Béatrice Voirol
Contributors: Maurice Bonvin, Basil Bucher, Nicolai Kölmel, Sorin Marti, Jo Meier
Institutions: Museum der Kulturen, University of Basel
Partners: Research & Infrastructure Support of the University of Basel (RISE)