Monday May 12th to Wednesday May 14th
Location – IIIT Bangalore
In May 2014, I, along with David Beel (a colleague also based at the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub, University of Aberdeen) coordinated Cross Currents, a workshop at IIIT-Bangalore, which brought UK academics together with Indian academics and practitioners to discuss the roles of technology in enabling cultural practices in rural parts of India and the UK. David and I developed the idea for the workshop for the ‘India spoke’ of the dot.rural hub – a collaboration between dot.rural and colleagues at IIIT-Bangalore.
The creation of the spoke provided an opportunity for funding to exchange ideas and pursue collaborative projects and relationships. The workshop was made possible with £18,000 of funding in total – £6,000 each provided by the dot.rural India spoke, Communities and Cultures Network Plus (CCN+) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The workshop promoted knowledge exchange between academics in the UK and India as well as with IT industries based in Bengaluru, concerning how digital technologies can be used to help develop cultural, arts, heritage and relevant business practices at the community level in rural areas. The activity brought together nine UK-based academics with more than twenty India-based academics and practitioners.
The workshop format allowed us to share research projects, findings and observations and to critically reflect on synergies and divergances between the UK and Indian cultural contexts. Participatory sessions actively encouraged the formation of collaborative research ideas and relationships. UK projects presented included CURIOS (digital heritage in the Outer Hebrides); SIRA (exploring empowering rural entrepreneurs through broadband infrastructures); Alan Walks Wales (Alan Dix walking the coast of Wales and exploring technology uses and perceptions on the way); University of the Village (a community learning model enabled by superfast broadband); digitised non-Roman scripts; Brighton Fuse (connecting arts and humanities with digital and ICT for creative clusters to empower creativity and innovation); Citizen Sense (investigating digital sensors and environmental practices); and Law Digital (how digital networks might reshape legislative discourses). India projects and initiatives included IT For Change (NGO applying technologies to social justice and equality agendas); Socionity (exploring digital applications to enable rural communities); Digital Hampi (innovative digital representations of ancient ruins); and Janastu (an NGO providing IT services for voluntary and civil society organisations).
In order to experience some ‘on the ground’ examples of cultural practices in rural India, participants experienced a field trip to the ancient princely capital of the Karnataka region, Mysore. Mysore is a beautiful city in the south of India, famed for being the centre of yoga and the production of silk and sandalwood. It is known as the cultural capital of the region and evokes a sense of a grand and regal past, rich in heritage and culture. Here, we visited a number of sites including the Oriental Research Institure (ORI), an institute which collects, preserves and publishes rare Sanskrit and Kannada (local language) palm leaf and paper manuscripts.
We also visited Mysore Folklore Museum, a glorious fading palace filled with ancient treasures from all over the Karnataka region. The museum houses a number of significant artefacts including ancient masks and costumes, stone carved chariots, puppets, religious artefacts and toys. We observed that the people we met working here, and at ORI were happy to open glass cabinets and let us touch and leaf through ancient manuscripts and feel the fabrics of precious costumes – something we would not expect to be able to do in museums in the UK. A highlight of the field trip was a visit to the Vishva-Kshema Trust, a Vedic teaching community aiming to preserve and propogate Vedic wisdom and spirutual heritage in contemporary India. We visited at the tail end of a spiritual festival that had attracted thousands of people, which created an interesting atmosphere at a site much larger and with far more people than we had anticipated.
We were treated to a fantastic vegetarian meal served on palm leaf plates made by hand by the community. Before the day was out we had also visited Myra Business School and Mysore Palace. During the day we were treated to several great meals, met a good number of interesting and welcoming people doing fascinating work, and we returned to our hotels worn out but fulfilled and ready for the final day of the workshop.
On the final day participants worked in small groups in participatory sessions, focusing the key themes from the previous two days. The main themes to emerge were: digital Heritage; digital engagement at the edge; creative clusters; and travelling tales.
Everyone sorted themselves into the group most relevant or interesting to them, and worked towards ideas for collaborative work within the themes. So far, TB Dinesh, one of the Indian participants, has travelled around universities across the UK to meet and explore ideas further with various UK participants, Helen Pritchard from Goldsmith’s University is pursuing a project on urban gameing with the Fields of View Lab based in IIIT-Bangalore, Chris Dillon from UCL is working with Indian connections to develop an online Hindi-based language resource, and Alan Dix is investigating the possibility of a Newton-Bhaba PhD placement based at Birmingham University, which would enable an Indian student to study in the UK.
Following the workshop in Bangalore, David and I embarked on a trip to the ancient World Heritage Site Hampi. There, we visited the nearby Kannada University (which sits on the edge of a huge lake and explores local folklore and heritage, amongst other things. We met with Chulavaraju, a professor in Tribal Studies, who introduced us to his work in storytelling with local riverside communities. We are hoping to explore the potential of cross-cultural collaborations with Chulavaraju and TB Dinesh in relation to digitising intangible heritage.