Beyond Solutionism? Digital Data and Threatened Cultural Heritage

Author(s): Eric Kansa; Sarah Whitcher Kansa

Year: 2018


In his influential book "To Save Everything, Click Here" (2014), Evgeny Morozov coined the term "solutionism" to describe a utopian vision that innovation in digital technologies can solve complex social problems. Fueled by Silicon Valley wealth, digital technologies have an obvious glamor. The high-profile reconstruction of the Palmyra Arch by the Institute for Digital Archaeology exemplifies how governments, universities, corporate sponsors, and granting foundations use media attention on threatened world heritage to showcase technological prowess. Do such efforts meaningfully preserve threatened heritage? Do they overshadow often tragic social realities that fuel war and other causes of heritage destruction? How likely are the data to be available, discoverable, and of any future use?

To move beyond solutionism, this paper highlights how digital data need better contextualization. Context is multi-dimensional-- simultaneously physical, social, and intellectual. Contextualization requires developing "human capital" through community archaeology and public education, and sustained institutional commitments for digital curation. Such efforts cannot be siloed institutionally, intellectually, or technologically. Open Context ( illustrates approaches to link and integrate heritage data across institutional and community boundaries in ways that can encourage continued development of the human capital needed to make digital cultural heritage a meaningful aspect of preservation.

Cite this Record

Beyond Solutionism? Digital Data and Threatened Cultural Heritage. Eric Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444058)

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Abstract Id(s): 20022