Knitting virtual tribes together: new audiences for cultural objects

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Florence Heri-Tech – The Future of Heritage Science and Technologies, IOP Conference Series-Materials Science and Engineering, Volume 364
A focused re-analysis of knitted items in museum storage suggests a range of new approaches to researching the cultural biographies of objects and writing new chapters for them. The Knitting in Early Modern Europe (KEME) project examined more than 100 knitted caps held in European and North American museums. The project aims to bring a new scientific approach to the under-researched history of knitting as a textile craft and technology and to provide a protocol through which knitted objects which have been silent for too long can tell their stories. New chapters in these knitted objects' biographies are also being written using innovative research methodologies. Scientific analyses more usually applied to archaeological material (such as scanning electron microscopy) have revealed the sophistication of the raw materials required to make them. Attempts at reconstruction using methodologies drawn from experimental archaeology have provided clear evidence of the complexity of the processes required to turn fleece into aspirational faux fur or mock velvet. A range of audiences was invited to engage with the knitted caps as investigators in a Citizen Science project and as commentators on the evidence via an interactive online database. A tribe has gathered around the material and has an ongoing dialogue with it. Social media have created the opportunity for the knitted caps to continue their lives into the future as dynamic cultural objects as new and different people engage with them reconstruct them and reinterpret them for their own purposes. The KEME project has generated the possibility for mute objects lying in the dark drawers of museum storage to have multiple vibrant new lives among diverse tribes well beyond their geographical and traditional cultural communities. This paper explores how cultural biographies can be set free to change and grow without the need for physical examination or public presentation of the objects.
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Malcolm-Davies, J 2018, Knitting virtual tribes together: new audiences for cultural objects . in Florence Heri-Tech – The Future of Heritage Science and Technologies . IOP Conference Series-Materials Science and Engineering, vol. 364, Institute of Physics Publishing, International Conference on Florence Heri-Tech, Florence, Italy, 16/05/2018 .