Heritage and Social Media - Chapter 6: Heritage Knowledge, Social Media and the Sustainability of the Intangible

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Heritage Knowledge, Social Media and the Sustainability of the Intangible, pp. 106-125

by Dagny Stuedahl and Christina Mörtberg


This chapter deals with the sustainability of intangible cultural heritage. In this special case with the dissemination and adherence of knowledge, techniques and skills of traditional Norwegian boat building. The craftsmen and experts want to translate the physical craft into digital forms by using digital technologies and social media to communicate their craft.

The aim of this project was to understand if and how digital technologies and social media may sustain the negotiating with the material embedded in the craft. They also asked themselves in what ways social media make visible how communities form and build the dynamics of traditional craft. This project was meant to go beyond preservation and documentation of craftsmanship and should include durability and maintenance of technology and continuity of heritage as well.

In this chapter you can find two examples of how Norwegian boat builders use video recording and photo documentation in combination with social media communication and contemporary knowledge to document the reconstruction of Viking age wooden boats. The two cases demonstrate how traditional crafts, intangible knowledge traditions and analogue and digital tools are brought together.

Sustaining traditions and craft digitally

While crafters combine century-old techniques with digital technology (wikis, YouTube) for quite a while, this movement is a relatively new approach in the field of cultural heritage. A former emphasis on conservation and preservation of architectural remains and physical artifact in increasingly supplemented by recognition of the value of intangible traditions and a shift of focus towards understanding heritage as a totality of social activities and interpretation.

Cultural sustainability: durability, maintenance and continuity

Beside the Brundtland Commission’s three pillars environmental responsibility, economic health and social equity of sustainable development a fourth has been emerged during the last years - cultural sustainability. Cultural Sustainability emphasizes well-being, creativity, diversity and innovation, as well as cultural vitality in communions. It’s also a matter of how the community functions as a center of common, reciprocal reflection, self-assertion, productive questioning and historical awareness.

Digital sustainability of collaborative practices of interpretations

Two cases of reconstructing a Viking age Norwegian boat are given in this text. Both deal with digital technologies and durability, maintenance and continuity but in a different way. In both examples digital tools are used to document the craftsmen’s knowledge, technique and the use of tools.

Case 1: digital recording

The aim of using digital documentation was to capture and record the discussion of alternative hypothesis form different traditions and experts. They used video and audio recording to support the documentation of the craftsmen’s physical activities. The reconstruction process was shared both online as well as in a museum exhibition.

Their first challenge was to find a good position for the cameras to get both views the whole scenery as well as the details. Also the audio recording was difficult because of the noise of the tools. Soon they had to decide whether they should document the collaborative process of reconstruction or the details of the crafting activity.

In the end the photos were used to cover the details of certain problems during the reconstruction and the video and audio recordings documented the discussions between the experts from different boatbuilding traditions. Unfortunately the recordings had a really poor quality concerning both image and sound.

During the storage of the digital material there came up another problem. First they wanted to use a metadata standard based on a large group of object-orientated categories but this was quite challenging and so they decided to use their own categorization system in the end.

Case 2: blogging to build open dialogue with communities

This case describes how blogging was used to broaden the participation of the communities involved. In this reconstruction local communities were involved in workshops and visits. They could also explore the different perspectives between different regional traditions about material, method and tools used. An active communication with communities and audiences was particularly important to the experts of this reconstruction.

They opened a blog and used it as a kind of personal diary to document the steps and challenges in the reconstruction process. The diary was daily updated with posts, photos and videos. Blog visitors were also able to post questions, comments and reflections to the reconstruction. The blog facilitated an exchange of ideas and interpretations with craftsman practitioners and with other involved communities as well as non-professional but interested visitors.

In the end the blog helped to understand the context of the reconstruction, showing the relation between archeological treatment of the pieces of the shipwreck, the conversation of the wooden pieces and the building of the replica. All this phases inform the craftsmanship knowledge that comes into play in the building of the boat.

The blog was a total success as long the working process continued but the flow in the blog stopped as soon as the project was completed.


Social technologies are challenging traditional notions but they can play a role in providing tools for sustainably negotiating cultural continuity of people’s learned and developed knowledge.

Digital tools like video recording, online photography and blogging can have a positive impact on the practice of sharing and preserving cultural knowledge, techniques and skills but one must also be aware of the limitations these tools bring with them. Further the extra level of metadata calls for digital competencies outside of traditional craftsmanship.

Social media have a role to play in supporting the social dimension of sustaining and renewing cultural heritage continuity. But they require thoughtful and honest design. Social media cannot substitute the embodied performance of intangible cultural heritage practice, but can involve stakeholders from different communities and audiences in the revitalization of heritage by providing a space for communication, dialogue and negotiation.

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