The Holocaust, 9/11, the Slave Trade and…Facebook? How Museums & Experts Fail at Social Media

As part of my EUROTAST postdoc I partnered with the Institute for Public Understanding of the Past and Marc Pallascio, a History MA student to conduct a survey of the online outreach of museums and institutions that commemorate so-called “dark” or difficult heritage. At the outset of my postdoc I wrote:

How do I digitally remediate difficult heritage? What considerations do I take when I disseminate research on this incredibly sensitive topic, heritage that hurts? (…) Anyway, I’ve taken to calling my new job digital heritage on hard mode.

This article attempts to address some of these questions through social media metrics and the online interactions of heritage institutions associated with difficult heritage: The Holocaust, 9/11, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, with a focus on the latter. Additionally, we looked into existing online communities surrounding difficult heritage that are independent of these larger institutions.

Spoilers: there was little-to-no interactivity between official institutions and online places where people chose to “remember together.” Social media was used by official institutions purely to broadcast, not to interact.

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Institutions and experts were also pretty scarce where there was the most interaction, debate and arguably a need for an informed opinion. It’s a complete cliche online, but we ventured where nobody dares to go: THE COMMENTS.

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These were on a YouTube series for Africans in America, on the “Little Dread” YouTube channel. Even when a link to a reputable source is posted, it is countered with a reference to the van Sertima pseudoscientific book “They Came Before Columbus.” More importantly, there are several online places and communities that are obviously taking up issues of heritage, race, and origins and these are overwhelmingly NOT in ready-made, sanctioned arenas for such discussions. As we state in the paper:

Authoritative voices are absent in non-specialist discussions of heritage online, as experts frame their conversations within official settings.

From the conclusions:

The distributed network of the internet would seem to be an ideal venue for discussions with and between members of the diaspora formed by the descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet, there is little connectivity apparent on either websites or social media between academics, heritage interpreters, and the online stakeholder communities…identifying where meaningful performative collective memory is exercised, then engaging with stakeholders on their own terms, may be more impactful than websites or campaigns of outward-facing social media.

Despite the 2015 publication date, the article has just been published by the Journal of African Diaspora and Heritage:

Morgan, C., & Pallascio, P. M. (2015). Digital Media, Participatory Culture, and Difficult Heritage: Online Remediation and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage, 4(3), 260–278.

It’s also available as a pre-print on Academia:

https://www.academia.edu/24144509/Digital_Media_Participatory_Culture_and_Difficult_Heritage_Online_Remediation_and_the_Trans-Atlantic_Slave_Trade

 

Minecraft for Archaeological Outreach

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The “Real Tools of Minecraft”

We ran a “Virtual Dig” event for Yornight again this year, refined and improved from last year’s effort. The event was wildly popular once again, and utterly wiped out the researchers participating.

I re-structured the event so that there is something for each of our expected demographic–we had kids that had never played Minecraft who participated last year, as well as a few bored parents. We were able to address the former with a papercraft event, but as the papercraft was based around Breary Banks, we decided to eliminate it this year and focus primarily on Star Carr, for consistency across the activities.

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Steal me!

For the younger kids we expanded on our “real tools of Minecraft” event last year. It was very successful for connecting the analog world to the digital world, and gave us a way to talk about the spectrum of archaeological tools. Minecraft has pickaxes, shovels, buckets, a compass, and flint, and we had the kids match up the tools from a print-out. Of particular interest was the flint, as many children did not make the connection from the digital representation to the rocks in their backyard.

I’ve uploaded a printable pdf of the Minecraft tools. I also made a sheet with a few letters that you can have the kids place next to the real tools. Feel free to steal the activity, but pleaaaaase tell me (colleen.morgan@york.ac.uk) if you do so I can show my department how useful it is to muck around with video games.

We also had our usual server running with the Star Carr landscape installed, which I wrote about making last year. I actually had to re-make it this year in a single day, due to the old version accidentally getting wiped out. Ooops!

Once again we also showed Anthony Masinton’s Yorkshire 9000BC on the big screen in back. It’s made in Unity, so we tied it to Minecraft by saying they were both video games AND both of them were based on the same digital elevation model. I’d point at the houses he’d placed on the landscape, talk a bit about how hard it was to reconstruct houses based on postholes, then end with an entreaty:

Can you build a 10,000 year old house in Minecraft?

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Fabrizio, showing off his ADS viewer to Julian Richards & Gareth Beale

For the older kids and adults we had Marie Curie Fellow Fabrizio Galeazzi present Star Carr data on his ADS viewer, to show the detailed visualizations of stratigraphy within a research database. It was a great link for showing the research potential of archaeological visualizations.

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Early in the night!

Overall it was chaotic but fun–we didn’t always have a chance to collar the kids with research before they started bashing through Minecraft. I’ve yet to have a chance to see what kind of carnage they enacted upon the Mesolithic landscape. I look forward to it though, as it’s an archaeology of its own.