As the DE-BIAS project works towards developing a vocabulary which can be used to ‘de-bias’ the metadata of cultural heritage collections, it is collaborating closely with different communities through co-collaboration events and a methodology the project has developed. The first meetings which took place are detailed below.
Unveiling queer histories
DE-BIAS project partner EFHA reached out to Queering Rome, one of the first LGBTQIA+ heritage projects in Italy, and the first to focus on popularising and disseminating the ancient and early modern history of the city of Rome analysed through a queer lens. Building on their ties with UK institutions, EFHA and Queering Rome organised a hands-on session at the Victoria and Albert Museum, involving six members of the LBGTQIA+ terminology group of the museum.
Following introductions to the participants and a presentation of the project and its expected outcomes, the meeting started with a fascinating roundtable discussion on the value of words in collections, chaired by Dani Martiri from Queering Rome. It explored the necessity of maintaining and explaining terms that are now considered outdated, but that are part of LGBTQIA+ history, and demonstrated the complex historical and contextual specificity of language. The conversation focused on some ‘derogatory’ words and then reflected on how these words have been appropriated by the community itself, changing their meaning and their value. The discussion then turned into a workshop session on Europeana.eu, in which participants looked for words and expressions discussed in the roundtable and commented on the items that would come up in the search.
The main takeaways of the session were related to the acknowledgement of the ‘absence’ of terms associated with LGBTQIA+ identities; to the historical and geographical specificity of terms such as queer, and the need to give visibility to all terms - even the ones that are now obsolete - and add correct historical accounts, use, old and new meanings.
Another point of discussion was the importance of narrative and storytelling projects to reframe objects to unveil the histories they - and their metadata - often hid. The comments of the community were instrumental for restructuring the communication strategy of the DE-BIAS project and publishing narrative blog posts and other contributions for the members of the communities themselves.
All in all, the workshop was shaped according to the initial internal discussions on the methodology, and was a great opportunity to put our ideas to test and adjust the methodology according to the feedback received during the meeting.
Reframing a colonial photographic archive
The community activities of project partner KU Leuven revolve around a colonial photographic archive created by Flemish Franciscan missionaries who were active in various localities in the south of Belgian Congo from the 1920s onwards. They contain both visual and discursive representations of local communities in this area.
With this collection as a starting point, we mapped out two distinct yet mutually reinforcing courses. The first consists of a collaboration with Prof. Dr. Donatien Dibwe (Université de Lubumbashi), an expert in the field of oral history projects, Katangese history and international collaborations on the topic of colonial heritage and history. Over the course of two preparatory meetings - in March (Antwerp) and June (Hasselt) - we discussed the ambitions of the De-Bias project, the specific archive, and the practical implementations of our partnership. Together with Prof. Dibwe, the archives were narrowed down to those records holding information about four locaties: Kanzenze, Kamina, Kolwezi and Lac Muero. Prof. Dibwe’steam of four associates will now each spend a week in the designated locality asking local community members questions about the photos, following a defined questionnaire. Several of the collaborators were present during a first full-fledged allies meeting in August, which allowed for a concrete and focused discussion of questions and needs, for example regarding the translation of descriptions in Dutch and the handling of biassed terminology in doing so, a discussion that led us straight to the heart of the project. We revisited the preselected photographic material together with the team of interviewers, assessing their storytelling potential and potential investigative routes.
In tandem with this approach, KU Leuven is also preparing a series of small-scale community events consisting of conversations about colonial photographic heritage, colonial terminology, and the handling of such material. These will take place in Leuven and will be attended by a group carefully composed in partnership with a Leuven based artist and cultural worker. This dual strategy will allow us to tap into both Congolese and diasporic sensitivities based on the same material, which will enable us to observe similarities or discrepancies.
These conversations have proven to be vital in inspiring meaningful and respectful interactions with community groups around the facilitators. The co-creation events that will emerge as a manifestation of those interactions are planned for the autumn of 2023. You can discover more about the De-Bias project - and all its resources - in the project page.
If you work with communities and would like to find out more about the work of De-Bias, use our methodology, or share learnings, please get in contact with email@example.com. You can also engage with the project team members at EuropeanaTech 2023.