Let's visit museum collections!
What can we gather about the data?

An online workshop during vDHd2021 on  (CET)

Join us for virtual museum visits to engage with collection interfaces and reflect on the data that is being displayed, the kinds of interactions supported, and claims made about culture. Regardless whether the interfaces are cutting-edge or conventional, the main point of this participatory event is to jointly visit the online collections of museums and explore gaps in their representation. The workshop will adapt digital methods to perform data and interface criticism in the context of digital cultural heritage.

web browser illustration with museum symbol

The past decade has seen a rapid rise of museums making their collections available online. While this has furthered access to cultural collections it has also drawn attention to the decisions that go into the selection of cultural data on online platforms. Digital representations of cultural content could lead to stabilizing and reproducing dominant narratives while repressing and diminishing others. Ethical issues in interpretation of these digital collections tend to be caused by lack of context and multi-perspective cultural data. What do visitors get to see and how do they experience the objects? Not only the data but also the interface structures both the appearance of—and the possible interactions with—the respective collections and the underlying data. Therefore we aim to explore online museum collections to jointly reflect about data and its accessibility via images, text, videos, metadata, and interface elements.

network diagram with mug in center and various icons connected to it

After a brief introduction followed by several guided tours, workshop participants are invited to engage with related questions about digital interfaces and the underlying data. We hope to highlight data biases and hegemony in these collections by drawing multiple perspectives to it. While this event is not intended to contribute to the social program of the virtual conference, we are trying to open a collegial space that is conducive to amicable exchanges about both the beauty and the beast in digital cultural heritage.

stylized map in a painting's frame

Guided tours

Participants will choose to join one of the following tours and guides.

Rida Arif1
Being the place of origin of Buddhism, there are numerous Buddhist sites sprawled all over South Asia, with several located in Pakistan's ancient Gandhara region. However, many sites have received little to no resources due to administrative negligence, lack of financial resources, and an overall sense of apathy for their cultural significance. This tour covers online platforms such as CyArk and Google Arts & Culture that portray museum collections at Buddhist cultural heritage sites in Pakistan, and the data on the current state of these artefacts. The goal is to focus on the role that online cultural collections interfaces can play in highlighting cultural collections at risk.

Thiago da Costa Oliveira2,3 and Andrea Scholz2
In the last years, there have been efforts in the Ethnological Museum for opening up collections for heritage communities from the Amazon. One outcome of these efforts has been that the indigenous partners do not see the artifacts as separated from the plants and other beings they are made of. In our tour, we depart from the EM virtual collection and propose a connection with the GBIF and JACQ biological databases. Thereby we will explore the difficulties and potentials of coping with indigenous perspectives and connecting these resources.

Lukas Fuchsgruber4
The central public collection interface SMB-Digital of the Berlin State Museums brings together 17 collections. The focus of the tour will be to look at traces of digitization, design choices and use concepts. The goal is to map social aspects of this collection interface.

Meike Hopp4
The digitisation of museum collections has expanded rapidly, not only but even more so as a result of the Corona pandemic. But does the digital accessibility of museum objects and artefacts also mean a step towards greater transparency with regard to their provenances? Are data on the acquisition and/or provenance of cultural objects sufficiently taken into account in the digitisation concepts or are the objects expected to speak for themselves? On a virtual tour through digital collections of selected museums (such as sammlung.pinakothek.de, sammlungonline.kunstmuseumbasel.ch, rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio or britishmuseum.org), we will look at different concepts of the (in)visibility and (in)traceability of provenances and track down disclosed and hidden data.

1Cultural Advocacy Lab  2Ethnological Museum Berlin  3Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin  4Technical University of Berlin 


To participate send an email by 23 March 2021.


Sara Akhlaq5  Sabine de Günther5  Sarah Kreiseler6  Marian Dörk5
5UCLAB, Fachhochschule Potsdam  6Leuphana Universität Lüneburg