Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, The New School
3D Remediation in Colonial Collections: Authorship, Ownership and the Ethics of Reproduction

The Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in Paris and the Humboldt Forum in Berlin are in the process of pioneering new technologies and unprecedented formats to represent and distribute their collections. Through cutting-edge 3D technologies such as photogrammetry, CT, and MRI scanners, the museums are gaining access to heretofore unseen aspects of ethnographic artifacts and developing new ways to aid restoration initiatives and renew public interest. But the adoption of 3D technologies comes amidst a growing social movement that calls for museums to decolonize their collections; this includes increasing tensions over authorship as Indigenous peoples demand to be recognized as the legitimate authors and rightful owners of the artifacts. While the introduction of 3D technologies could enable museums to address some of these demands, such as by making the artifacts available online, it also raises a series of ethical, legal, and aesthetic questions that could reproduce the concerns about ownership and control that are inherent to colonial collections. Intellectual property law determines ownership and copyright according to the author of an object; therefore recordings and photographs of Indigenous cultural practices belong to the entity who made the reproduction, not to the Indigenous peoples who first made the objects. Due to the novelty of these technologies, there is no solid legal framework for attributing authorship of 3D replicas. By focusing on questions regarding authorship of the replicas and on the ethical problems raised in their production, this project will explore the effects of 3D remediation in ethnographic collections and the authority museums have over them. How do the museums attribute authorship to the 3D scanned replicas and what are the implications of the adoption of these technologies to the ongoing conflicts over ownership of colonial-era artifacts?