Generous Interfaces: Exploring Cultural Collections

Talk by Canberra-based academic, writer, and data visualiser Mitchell Whitelaw.

Physical materials and documents in an archive conventionally interact with users through retrieval and consultation. Yet the rapid development of digitisation technologies and internet sharing possibilities relating to archival materials, including those pertaining to culture, are gaining a different kind of presence and circulation.
Digital collections of cultural materials, housed institutionally or personally, primarily reach audiences through their internet interfaces. In this talk, Mitchell Whitelaw argues that the 'search' function may not be the most generous way into these items. Informed users can easily navigate and locate materials based on prior knowledge, but new users are often left to begin without any anchor or direction. This phase of seeking an entry point is necessary for the production of new research to some, yet there is a current trend towards more open, exploratory and generous ways of presenting collections, building on familiar web conventions and extending them. Referencing some of his past and ongoing projects, Whitelaw proposes a way to think about collection interfaces by "sharing abundantly".


Mitchell Whitelaw is an academic, writer and practitioner with interests in new media art and culture, generative systems, data-aesthetics, and digital cultural collections. His current work spans materiality, data and culture, with a practical focus on creating 'generous interfaces' for digital heritage. He has worked with institutions including the State Library of NSW, the National Archives, and the National Gallery of Australia, developing innovative interfaces to their digital collections. Whitelaw is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, where he leads the Digital Treasures program in the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research. He blogs at The Teeming Void and his work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Fibreculture, and Senses and Society.


Thank you to Bloomberg for hosting the talk and their ongoing support of AAA’s programme videos online. 

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AAA’s newly renovated library and The Collective School exhibition are open by appointment only starting Monday, 3 October. Register here to arrange a visit.