Arts & Culture

It’s Complicated: TechnoHeritage Marries Tech and Cultural Heritage 

The use of tech to preserve, reproduce and recreate antiquities and items of cultural value is not new.  The was Apple’s The Virtual Museum CD-ROM (remember that?!)  in 1992. The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford (est. 1683) went online in 1995, and according to Wikipedia “was the earliest physical museum to inaugurate a programme of virtual exhibitions” In 2012 the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston unveiled Giza 3D.  The Smithsonian digital archives contain over 9.6 million catalog records relating to their museums.  And that’s just a catalog.  They have online exhibitions and they’ve been archiving their collection in 3D since 2013.  And there’s Smithsonian X 3D Explorer.

As ancient ruins across the globe are being destroyed by war, terrorism and natural disasters – tech is giving us incredible new ways not only to preserve and re-create, but to relate to and interact with art and culture in new combinations and contexts.  Palmyra gets destroyed in 2015, by 2016 there’s a robot in Italy working to re-build.  And it seems you can now 3D print replicas of almost anything. This article I recently co-wrote with Prof. Sonia K. Katyal of UC Berkeley in The Boston Globe details some of these efforts and underscores the complex ethical and legal  questions raised by the increasing ease with which cultural content can be digitized.
While tech is helping to preserve and protect ancient artifacts, a number of conflicts are emerging, and the intersection of copyright law and cultural heritage is just one of them.  What happens when cultural property (often in the public domain) becomes intellectual property?