Approaches to 'place': A study exploring how New Zealand's digital collections conceptualise our social understanding of space
Research problem: The concept of ‘place’ has a clear presence in New Zealand’s digital heritage collections. However, some theorists suggest there is gap between place as a concept relevant to cultural heritage concerns and place as represented by digital technology. This research explores how geospatial and digital technology deployed in New Zealand’s digital collections engage with and conceptualise qualities usually associated with place: social bonds, emotional attachment and subjectivity. Methodology: This two-stage, mixed-methods study has a qualitative weighting. Web Content analysis (WebCA) gathered data from digital collections that demonstrate place inclusive features. An anonymous survey gathered opinions from practitioners who create place-inclusive digital collections. Descriptive statistics developed during quantitative analysis triangulated findings developed during thematic qualitative analysis. Results: New Zealand’s digital collections generate a sense-of-place using strategies that mimic subjective and experience-based understanding of the world. Some collections also engage with place in its ‘common-sense wrapper’ by using the deploying the place in a metadata context or as an overarching thematic structure. New Zealand’s cultural heritage practitioners are very practice-oriented in their consideration of place, and place-inclusive collections are most often impacted by resourcing issues. Implications: This project contributes to the growing ‘body of sustained critical thinking’ focusing on the implications of digital technology for cultural heritage concerns. It suggests place has considerable value and multiple functions within digital heritage collections. When conducting projects using geospatial technology, heritage practitioners can consider supplementing geospatial technology with user-contribution features, content variety, and an emphasis on storytelling to effectively reflect the subjective components of place.