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Compilation of Ethnographic Objects from Museums Reserves

Author Raoul Weiler
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Raoul Weiler

I am located in Belgium in Antwerp. During the last years my activities focus primarily on sustainability issues as a planetary challenge, the use of low-cost ICT in schools and communities as a contribution to the eradication of illiteracy and bridging the digital gap, and facilitating the access of all to the oncoming worldwide information and knowledge societies, as well as on sustainable economy questions. At present, I chair and founded the Brussels-EU Chapter of the Club of Rome (CoR-EU) and am a member of the Executive Committee of the International Club of Rome (CoR). I am a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS), member of Scientific Advisory Board of European Papers in the New Welfare, a member of the Board of Greenfacts and the president of the new created DigitalWorld. I participated as a NGO participant at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (WSSD, 2002) and the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva and Tunis (WSIS, 2003 & 2005) as well as at the World Social Forum in Porte Alegre (WSF, 2005).

My academic background is engineering with a degree of engineering and Ph. D. in chemistry both at the University of Leuven (KUL), Belgium and spent several years as Post-doc in the US and France. My industrial career started in a chemical multinational in the Department of Applied Physics and ended, until retirement (1996), as manager of the ICT department. I have held teaching positions at different universities, in particular at the University of Leuven in the Faculty of Bio-engineering Sciences (KUL), and gave lectures about the relationship between technology and society, especially about the problem of sustainability and ethics. I am the co-author and editor of four books on sustainability, global change and philosophy and ethics of technology. Recent publications: Ethic Aspects of the Convention on Climate Change (2005) and the Proceedings of the joint World Conference of the Club of Rome and UNESCO on ICTs for Capacity-Building: Critical Success Factors (2005). Wikipedia article

Abstract
The safeguarding cultural diversity on our planet is one of the major issues of the sustainability concept. According to UN data it is estimated that about 5.000 languages are practiced today and that by 2050 not more than one tenth will survive. Languages are the expression of ethnic and cultural entities; with their loss, traditions, community visions and above all human values will disappear for ever. Over decades ethnologists, art amateurs, museum directors have compiled -and still do- a wide variety and often exceptional pieces from ethnic communities disseminated over all continents: utensils, masks, jewelry, dresses and apparel, tapestry and tissues, music instruments, etc. We all know the influence of African masks and sculptures has had on Western painting a century ago.

Many objects found their way to specialized museums world wide. It is often said that up to 90% of these objects are not exhibited and not accessible to a wider public. In fact, they are hidden treasures absent from the perception of the richness of cultural heritage of humankind. The main source of information remains, usual nicely printed, catalogs of permanent collections and of occasionally organized of temporary exhibitions. The present proposal consists in the systematic compilation of ethnographic objects from museums with special focus on those objects stored in the reserves. The choice of ethnographic museums is argued by the dramatic threat of fast loss of cultural diversity. This compilation has the objective to bring the world wide disseminated objects together in 'virtual' museums, geographically unified and in historical perspective of ethnic groups. The period of time would cover something as two centuries (19th & 20th), but can be longer. In principle, Wikipedia would be the most appropriate environment for such an endeavor. Indeed, cultural heritage is a common good of humankind and the encyclopedic character of the compilation fits entirely in the Wikipedia concept. The info and data structure of the objects. The description of the object should be concise: one or max. two pictures (catalog style), size, material used, period, geographic and ethnographic origin. Some museums ask for standardization of the meta-data. 'Operational' models for collecting the data and pictures, a few possibilities: 1. By individual volunteers: this approach calls probably for difficulties, due to a strong administrative frame of these institutions (ministries), access only for experts. 2. Involving directly the museum authorities, in collaboration with Wiki-teams and other experts. Apparently, large museums plan or are doing such compilation, but independently from each other; for smaller ones it would be new initiative. 3. In partnership between museums and local cultural associations, NGOs, etc. and Wiki-teams. Project support and funding. Due to number of museums concerned and the large amounts of objects, the proposal is quite ambitious and will need a broad support from different authorities as well as financial means. First contacts with international institutions like UNESCO and ICOM (International Council of Museums), both in Paris, and with some museums indicate a real interest in the proposal.

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