Researcher Blog by Professor Luigina Ciolfi on Cultural Heritage and Digital Technologies

Cultural heritage and digital technologies workshop

About the author

Luigina Ciolfi is Professor of Human Centred Computing in the Computing and Communication Research Centre (CCRC) within C3RI. Luigina’s research is located at the intersection of computing, social science and design in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) and cultural heritage technologies.

In this post Luigina turns her attention to the outcomes of her research into the relationship between cultural heritage and digital technologies and the application of participatory processes in the design of exhibition installations.


The relationship between cultural heritage and digital technologies has been ongoing for decades, but it has not always been easy. Museums, galleries, historic sites, libraries and archives have used interactive tools to engage their visitors through interesting content, and to encourage them to establish a strong personal connection with heritage. However, digital technologies can sometimes be a distraction, and other, more informal ways in which they can help people connect have been overlooked: for example, how they can bring communities of interest together around heritage.

Cultural heritage is a domain where different communities can play a significant role and where new socially inclusive and participative ideas of heritage are becoming widespread. Local residents, amateurs, scholars, hobbyists are increasingly involved in the preservation, communication and sharing of heritage: from volunteers giving their time to promote a local small museum, to special interest groups discussing heritage that is close to their hearts on social media. For all these groups, digital technology is a powerful tool to increasingly define and take ownership of what is of value for them, therefore defining and reconfiguring heritage and heritage institutions.

In June 2015, a team of researchers and practitioners working on the EU meSch project  came together to organise a workshop at the 7th International Conference on Communities and Technologies in Limerick, Ireland to discuss these themes. With interests in technology design, community facilitation and heritage preservation and facilitation, we wanted to bring together a group of people with various expertise – from academic research to community management – and interesting experiences to share to discuss the present and future of how technologies can help communities work around heritage.

Workshop discussion

Workshop discussion

The participants shared insights from fascinating projects: from a small village in Ireland learning about archaeological remote sensing to document a never-excavated prehistoric fort, to documenting the indigenous knowledge and culture of communities in Namibia and Hawai’i, and examples of citizen engagement with local museums in The Netherlands and the UK.

Researchers and practitioners shared their reactions and thoughts by writing on post-its and contributing to an “opinion wall” that populated the workshop room and prompted a session of in-depth discussion in small groups where participants collaboratively discussed ways to further research and practice around cultural heritage communities. What stood out was the conclusion that it is all about enabling, recognising and sustaining connections – between people, places, objects and time.

Workshop notes

Workshop brainstorming

As an outcome of these discussions our workshop organizing team developed the idea for a book which would gather these examples of research and practice. Our book proposal particularly emphasized the need to speak to an audience beyond academia, to inspire curators, informal groups, and local institutions to undertake community-focused projects. Once the publisher accepted our proposal, my co-editors and I followed a rigorous process of chapter submission, review and discussion. Ten ten contributions made up the completed book Cultural Heritage Communities: Technologies and Challenges (Routledge). The editorial team at Routledge were extremely helpful in guiding the work throughout, and the final result is truly a collaborative effort.

Cultural Heritage Communities book cover

The book showcases the range of explorations and discussions that are ongoing in this multidisciplinary space at the intersection of heritage, technology and community development. It wishes to be a source of both useful examples and of inspiration for those practitioners, researchers and community organisers who are interested in the creative appropriation of digital technologies for engaging people around heritage.



Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.