Cultural Mediations of the Visual: At the Nexus of Database, Narrative, and Archive

Please join IN/TERMINUS and the HUMANITIES RESEARCH GROUP in welcoming DR. HART COHEN for his presentation:
CULTURAL MEDIATIONS OF THE VISUAL: AT THE NEXUS OF DATABASE, NARRATIVE, AND ARCHIVE

 

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Hart Cohen is the Chief Investigator of the project Digital Archives and Discoverability: Conceptualising the Strehlow collection as a new knowledge resource for remote indigenous communities. He is also an Associate Professor at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, University of Western Sydney.

From the mid 1990s Dr. Cohen’s research engagements have centred on the Strehlow Collection in the context of its primary community of interest at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), about 130 kilometres west of Alice Springs, Central Australia.  Currently, this work is being developed as part of an Australian Research Council project titled, Digital Archives and Discoverability: Conceptualising the Strehlow collection as a new knowledge resource for remote indigenous communities. Earlier projects focussed on the Stehlow Film Archive and his memoir, Journey to Horseshoe Bend.

The ascendency of the visual in anthropology has been marked by a tension surrounding the use of images that have been collected and sequestered in archives. Two tendencies have converged recently: the use of digital technology in the re-mediating of image collections and an interest in the repatriation of material culture by communities of interest from collecting agencies.

Our project has embraced these two tendencies in exploring the idea of digital repatriation as a means of addressing the knowledge interests in respect of a specific Indigenous community. To support the idea of digital repatriation, we have partnered with the Northern Territory Library Service’s Community Stories Database project to collaborate on the establishment of an iteration of this Database at Hermannsburg as a potential digital hub or repository. Second, we have focussed on narrative strategies as a means of providing access to the archive with digital storytelling and on-line story engines in collaboration with the Ntaria School.

This presentation addresses the re-mediation of archival images as a basis for a form of cultural repatriation reconceptualised as an interest in how images of all kinds can become the space where embodied knowledge and community interest in cultural history cross. Our project’s interests can be summarized in three interrelated questions: How will the digitisation of these archives enable us to find the knowledge flows within and across the Strehlow Collection? Can engagement with contemporary Aboriginal knowledge practices inform the concept of a cultural landscape? Can Aboriginal people discover and create their own relationships to the content of the Strehlow collection within contemporary database models?

* The paper is based on work in collaboration with co-investigators, Dr Juan Francisco Salazar and Dr Rachel Morley of the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, University of Western Sydney as well as other members of the research team including Wendy Cowan (Ntaria School), Mark Inkamala (W.Arrarnta traditional owner), Rex Kantawara (Cultural Advisor, Ntaria School), Adam Mcfie (SRC).

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