Cultural heritage is an established domain of study for human-centred computing – from the design of technological interventions at heritage sites, to the analysis and evaluation of the role of shared and of personal technologies in heritage settings (see for example vom Lehn et al., 2010; Grinter et al., 2002; Brown et al., 2003; Ferris et al., 2004; Damala et al., 2008; Hornecker, 2010; Ciolfi and McLoughlin, 2012). The main focus has been for a long time on a view of heritage where an official institution offers visitors certain content and interaction for interpretation and education purposes, whilst cultural heritage is a much more fragmented domain where different communities can play a significant role and where new socially inclusive and participative ideas of heritage have become widespread (Simon, 2010).
Even within established institutions such as museums, different communities of stakeholders are involved in the preservation, communication and sharing of heritage holdings: from the community of professionals managing them, to the communities of volunteers, of special interest groups and of “friends” and supporters of the institution engaging with them. Technology can feature in a number of activities for all these groups, as well as a tool to support visitors in their experience of heritage (Giaccardi, 2011; Petrelli et al, 2013). Furthermore, there is an increasing attention on civic community-led heritage: tangible or intangible heritage holdings are identified, championed and often managed by civic communities where institutional support is not present through the use of easily available technologies such as social media (Giaccardi, 2012; Weilenmann et al., 2013).
The participation of these various communities takes multiple forms. Ciolfi (2013) identifies a set of open issues related to the “work” of communities in cultural heritage:
- The participation of external communities of interest in acquiring and documenting cultural heritage holdings for museums and other institutions;
- The participation of various communities of interest in generating commentaries and discussions around heritage;
- The role of civic communities in identifying, preserving and communicating heritage.
Overall, communities of interest around heritage (with different degrees of formality and training) are increasingly defining and taking ownership of what is of value for them, thus defining and reconfiguring heritage. From cases where an established institution and a community of enthusiasts work together to consolidate and communicate heritage to a wider public – for example the successful “Saving Bletchley Park” campaign in the UK where the work of the British codebreakers during the Second World War has been brought to public attention and recognition–, to examples where ordinary citizens create an informal group for the preservation of what they consider to be of value, no matter how local or small – such as the Cassiar community initiative in Canada for the preservation of the history of a now abandoned asbestos mining town and its people -, we see that community work in heritage creates rich relationships between members and with other stakeholders. The European project “Europa Nostra” aims to involve citizens in the safeguarding of European cultural heritage. Conversely, established heritage institutions are increasingly open to community outreach (Maye et al., 2014).
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