Professor Luigina Ciolfi of Sheffield Hallam University presented CultureLabs at the symposium “Feeling the Past – Empathy, Heritage and the Museum” that took place at MShed in Bristol (UK) on December 4th, 2018.
The symposium was organised by Professor Steve Poole and his team in the Digital Cultures Research Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE). The event was part of the “Heritage Empath” project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project explores the importance of empathy and emotional involvement in experiencing heritage, and how digital technologies can convey and support such experiences. The project’s final installation, “Of Home and Each Other”, is an interactive storytelling experience on the theme of migration and empathy in the streets of Bristol, written by Zodwa Nyoni and realised by Splash and Ripple.
What was the thematic focus of the Symposium?
“Visitors to museums and sites of heritage are frequently invited to immerse themselves in the lives of past generations. With a fresh emphasis on emotion, feeling and personal perspective, heritage professionals have sought new ways to engage audiences with affective stories about objects, people and places, bringing the past to life, making it more familiar, and making it matter to audiences. But empathy is much easier to talk about than it is to curate. Is it possible to step into the shoes of long dead historical actors and see or feel the world as they did? How have heritage sites and museums built emotional content into the visitor experience, and how have visitors reacted?” (from the Symposium programme).
Several invited speakers presented their work on the day, linking research in several heritage contexts in the UK and overseas that examines emotionally resonant visitor experiences.
Professor Ciolfi spoke of the vision of CultureLabs and of the challenges in understanding and supporting the process of engagement of migrant communities into the work of museums and other cultural institutions. While the importance and value of culture and heritage for social inclusion, empathy, and emotional wellbeing are broadly recognised, CultureLabs is developing knowledge and tools to make sure that such engagement can be realised and benefit both migrant and refugee communities and the general public so to engender dialogue and empathy.