Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

From tactile to digital

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One of the problems that museums face when disseminating cultural heritage on the web is that the collections often have no voice, they are more or less silent. During a large part of the 1900s the collecting and collection management has been devoted to dissecting and classifying, each thing in its place. In addition conservation also has caused for example photographs to be separated from documents and objects.

Today, we are aware of the need to collect and preserve a comprehensive view of objects, documents and photographs. Research in the humanities have in recent years increasingly focused on the objects’ materiality and social biography (see for example Photographs, Objects, Histories and Raw histories, photographs, anthropology and museums of Professor Elizabeth Edwards, the London College of Communication). It is not just the object itself that is important, but its social biography and context. Yet this paradigm shift has not reached the web interfaces. Much of the available knowledge about the collections is filtered and lost when going online.

To mediate tactile objects in digital channels requires new thinking and new approaches. We need methods to identify the context which is necessary to fully understand an object, document or photograph, and also methods on how to convey the very same context online.

Ethnologist Hanna Jansson has this spring completed her master’s thesis on knitting blogs. Title of the thesis is From yarn to words – tactile objects and narrative worlds in knitting blogs (my translation from Swedish). In September, she presented the thesis at an internal seminar at Nordiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.

A starting point for this paper is the American folklorist Katharine Young’s model of narrative worlds (Tale Worlds and Storyrealms, 2000). Narrator and audience can move between different worlds. In Young’s model there is Tale World (the events in the story) and Story Realm (the realm of storytelling). Hanna Jansson builds a new model in which she adds to Young’s model a new dimension, the World of experience, i.e. the everyday world of tactile experience. The World of experience is offline and the representations are online. The documenting and translating practices of the blogs are found both online and offline. The interaction between the blogger takes place both online and offline.

Hanna Jansen is interested especially in the transformation process, in which physical knitted objects are transformed into digital stories in the form of text, photographs and moving images and presented in blog format. In her work she has in addition to studying blogs also studied the informants’ lives offline. These blogs have, besides being a focus for the study, also yielded valuable information about knitting culture today in Sweden.

A conclusion that Hanna Jansson makes in her essay is that blogs are an ongoing story, through the linking of blog entries and comments. By following an individual object the story’s various elements emerges and can they be linked together to form a whole. Individual blogposts appear to be almost meaningless. The stories provide a context and follow objects that gradually emerge.

The relationships between online and offline is particularly interesting. Those who write posts on their blogs and those who comment are involved in each other both via the web – in commenting on each other’s posts – but also through meeting in real life. The boundaries between offline and online will thus be fluent. The study of bloggers also show that they are relevant to knowledge processes related to knitting.

Interestingly, Hanna Jansson concludes that RSS feeds can be limiting for interactivity. Those who consume blogs via RSS feeds tend to be less prone to comment on posts. While she draws the conclusion that the blogs that are frequently updated and have a superior quality and extensive scope, still get many comments on their posts.

Photographs play an important role in blogging, on multiple levels. First, the use of photographs make up a substantial part of the content of the blogs. Secondly the authors make a true effort to photograph the knitted items, and they know very well what a good picture should look like (how light will fall and so on). They also express an awareness that they really would like to produce even better images, but can not mainly because of time constraints.

The core of this paper is how Hanna Jansson shows how the tactile is conveyed in words and in pictures. Blog texts are very descriptive and illustrate the feeling of the yarn, the hard work of a knitting project, etc. The photographs aim to convey the same spirit, color, texture and fit. However, one seldom sees interaction with the yarn. The photographs do not to a greater extent convey tactile sensations. This might be caused by various factors, the bloggers do not always carry a camera or have the time to produce the images they would like. Secondly the media itself – the semi-public arena – puts the limit for what you want to show or tell.

But above all (my translation:) “the digital texts acquire a distinct materiality and physicality through the readers’ tactile skills” (in Swedish) ”får de digitala texterna genom läsarnas taktila kunskaper en tydlig materialitet och kroppslighet…”(Hanna Jansson, 2010, p.67). So it is by the well-informed audience, and the digital text and image processing, that the tactile experience can be delivered digitally. That the audience interact actively with the blog authors and participate in the emerging knitting projects, and also use their skills in this interaction, is crucial to the blog’s development. Hanna Jansson clearly shows how a survey of all participants on the blogs is essential to understand the knitted object’s transformation to a digital story.

Hanna Jansson reveals therefore the integration between object transformations and textualisations, the underlying tactile experiences, translating and interactive practices in the analysis of the knitted onjects. Online and offline merge. ”Digitalt och analogt, kropp och text samt erfarenhet och representation måste… förstås som grundläggande aspekter av både stickningens och bloggandets kreativa praktiker.” My translation: Digital and analogue, body and text, experience and representation must…be understood as basic aspects of the creative practices of knitting and blogging. (Hanna Jansson, 2010, s.67).

Hanna Jansson concludes her essay by saying that blogs are of great importance for folklore researchers when studying stories and storytelling. Blogs by their nature allow the study of storytelling both as process and as integral part of the informants’ lives.” My translation. In Swedish: ”att studera berättandet både som process och som integrerad del i informanternas liv.”

Studies like Hanna Jansson’s are invaluable to the process of developing a web presence for museums in the cultural heritage sector. Among other things we get new insights about what the web does today for cultural creativity and interaction.

Hanna Jansson is currently a doctoral student at Stockholm University and will continue studying blogs, a career that I look forward to follow.

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Hanna Jansson’s essay is available (in Swedish) in full text through the Nordic museum’s library.

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