Speculative Futures in Cultural Heritage Informatics

An open-access volume edited by Katherine Davidson, Kavita Mistry, and Scott Coleman, to be published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

With a foreword by Shawn Graham and an Afterword by Ethan Watrall

You are a graduate student or early career researcher working at the intersection of cultural heritage informatics (CHI) and your discipline. You are at the forefront of a rapidly developing field. What does the future of CHI look like from your vantage point?

This volume emerges from Carleton University’s Cultural Heritage Informatics Collaboratory, the XLab (Carleton.ca/xlab). In our view, the digital era is, in some ways, an era that has a renewed focus on orality, on the transmission of knowledge through personal relationships, and on unsettling the paradigms that control or preclude that transmission. When we think of the ‘field’ for cultural heritage informatics, we acknowledge that we are dealing with ‘belongings’, not objects; that cultural heritage is imbued with evolving meanings, and that knowledge holders are everyone from children to Elders, academics to artists, and that knowledge and knowledge holders are found everywhere: there are no simple binaries. Thus, we see cultural heritage informatics embedded in networks of relationships, inflows of knowledge and ideas, continuously expanding and ever malleable. The fieldwork of cultural heritage informatics can be situated in understanding the metadata of these flows. The idea of ‘cultural heritage informatics’ can be understood as actions in the context of relationships. Such relationships have to be fostered and built on mutual trust. These actions involve thinking through new protocols for how we work with differing communities, respecting the knowledge and sovereignty of the communities, with authentic reciprocal community engagement. It will require the creation of differentiated pathways of access that respect that not all cultural heritage knowledge is meant for everyone.

The actions of cultural heritage informatics might run the gamut from digitization and ontologies and description, to the devising of protocols and platforms for the sharing of cultural materials, to performance and storytelling of cultural heritage through immersive technologies. The actions of cultural heritage informatics might be in creating the necessary metadata to link repositories of knowledge together to build upon or generate new knowledge and new relationships. It might mean the hard work of curation and restoration to decolonize collections of cultural heritage dispersed across Western museums. The actions of cultural heritage informatics, whatever they may be, are grounded in our relationships with the cultures and communities with whom we work.

But we are not the only ones working in this broad field. We invite you to speculate on your own understanding of CHI and where it might go in the future, especially in the context of rapidly developing technology. Large multimodal models (including generative AI) are models of culture, of history, drawing as they do on a lossy compressed version of the web. What is the role of Large Language Models (LLM) in our field? Smartphones are powerful enough that high-quality 3D models can be created from photographs; where does personal photogrammetry fit in for heritage questions that bridge the digital and physical worlds? What tools do we have at our disposal – or might we create – to empower descendant communities to access information held at heritage institutions? How can open-access and open-source platforms facilitate collaboration in the production of cultural heritage knowledge between communities and disrupt traditional models of heritage informatics? Where do we go from here? That is the question of this volume. There is no one better suited to answer it than you.


The process of devising this volume might be unfamiliar.

In the first instance, we will ask you to send us a brief proposal – one to three paragraphs – of what you might write for the edited volume by February 15th, 2024. (Use the form at the bottom of this page).

Then, we will ask you to compose a 2000-4000 word draft chapter by March 28th, 2024.

Then, we invite you to attend the XLab Confab, being held April 2nd-4th in Richcraft Hall at Carleton. The XLab Confab is an unconference that will bring together students, professionals, and academics to discuss and learn together.

In the light of that confab, we ask that you join us on April 4th for a Book Sprint. At the sprint, your chapter will have been read by one of the other contributors, who will introduce it to the group. The group will discuss it in a kind of open peer review meant to engage with it in the spirit of ‘…yes, and!’. Perhaps we will identify clusters of drafts that speak so well to one another that they could become one co-authored chapter. By the end of the day, we should have a complete draft of the entire volume that the Editors can then start preparing for submission to the press. We anticipate the finished volume will be ready for open-access publication in Fall 2024.

Submit Your Proposal

Send your proposal to Katherine Davidson, Scott Coleman, and Kavita Mistry via the form below:

  • Accepted file types: doc, docx, pdf, md, txt.
    Please upload your proposal here.