Curating the Digital World: Past preconceptions, present problems, possible futures

Susan Cairns, USA , Danny Birchall, UK

Published paper: Curating the Digital World: Past Preconceptions, Present Problems, Possible Futures

Is the role of museums to curate the web as well as their own collections? How does ‘curating’ as an activity relate to a digital world? This paper looks at the history of museum curation as a profession in order to understand the emergence of ‘curation’ as an activity that happens outside museums in relation to a growing and hyperconnected world of digital information. It examines the source of curatorial authority in both connoisseurship and filtering, asking how that authority might be affected by in an era of abundant information and abundant human cognitive capacity, then looks at the Walker Art Center as an example of an institution that has focused its curatorial energies on the world beyond the museum. The role of algorithms as an alternative to human curation, both as personal filters and generators of public experiences is examined, and the relationship of curation to both material and digital objects questioned. It looks at how taking participative forms of curation can be taken beyond the gallery floor; how networks can enable the collaborative creation of history; and suggests that on a larger scale both algorithms and humans might contribute to an expanded museum catalogue that offers the necessary external context to museum objects. Finally, it proposes that rather than either contesting or abandoning the idea of ‘curation’, museums and their curators need new approaches, tactics and skills to effectively make sense of both their own collections and the digital world.