Who Owns the Past?

Who Owns the Past?

PHIL 338  •  Erich Matthes

3D rendering of ancient buildings with columns on a blank background

3D rendering from a project that reconstructs the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria

PHIL 338: Who Owns the Past? is an interdisciplinary course that focuses on moral and political issues surrounding cultural heritage. The digitization of cultural heritage has received increasing attention in recent years, raising a host of questions that intersect with the broader themes of this course. Who (if anyone) should own digital heritage? What problems and possibilities does digitization hold for increasing access to cultural heritage (e.g. what is the value of digital replicas as compared with originals)? Can digitization function as an adequate response to claims for repatriation? Should we use digital technology to reconstruct material heritage that has been destroyed by war and terrorism (as in the recent case of Palmyra)?

If the Digital Humanities as a field aims to use technology as a tool for engaging in humanistic inquiry, then it should also treat that very enterprise as a subject for critical reflection. It is this latter task that will be our focus in this part of the course, using a range of existing digital projects as examples for discussion.

This course is part of the Digital Humanities Program.