ʔeləw̓k̓ʷ – Belongings: Tangible Interactions with Intangible Heritage

  • Reese Muntean Simon Fraser University
  • Kate Hennessy Simon Fraser University
  • Alissa Antle Simon Fraser University
  • Susan Rowley University of British Columbia
  • Jordan Wilson University of British Columbia
  • Brendan Matkin Simon Fraser University
Keywords: Tangible interaction, intangible cultural heritage, digital heritage, Museum of Anthropology, Musqueam Indian Band, c̓əsnaʔəm


ʔeləw̓k̓ʷ – Belongings is an interactive tabletop using a tangible user interface to explore intangible cultural heritage. The table was designed for the c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city exhibition. This exhibition is a partnership of three major institutions in Vancouver, BC, examining the significant ancient village site on which part of Vancouver was built, as well as Musqueam culture and community today. The tabletop uses replicas of Musqueam belongings excavated from c̓əsnaʔəm, as well as contemporary objects that are a part of everyday Musqueam life to access information about the long history of salmon fishing and the continuity of related knowledge at c̓əsnaʔəm. The design of ʔeləw̓k̓ʷ – Belongings highlights the tensions between fragmentation and continuity that are central to discussions of access and preservation of intangible cultural heritage in the digital age. In this paper we discuss the tangible tabletop interface as a response to the desire to reconnect fragmented collections and physical belongings from c̓əsnaʔəm with Musqueam intangible cultural knowledge.

Author Biographies

Reese Muntean, Simon Fraser University
Reese Muntean is a graduate student at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts + Technology (SIAT) and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and East Asian Studies from New York University. Her research interests include digital cultural heritage and collaborative development of ethnographic new media projects.
Kate Hennessy, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Kate Hennessy is an Assistant Professor specializing in Media at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology. She is a cultural anthropologist with a PhD from the University of British Columbia (Anthropology). Her research explores the role of digital technology in the documentation and safeguarding of cultural heritage, and the mediation of culture, history, objects, and subjects in new forms. Current projects include the collaborative production of virtual museum exhibits with Indigenous communities in Canada; the study of new digital museum networks and their effects; ethnographic research on the implementation of large scale urban screens in public space; and the intersections of anthropology and contemporary art practices.
Alissa Antle, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Alissa Antle is an Associate Professor in the School of Interactive Arts + Technology at Simon Fraser University, Canada. Her research focuses on embodied human–computer interaction and child-computer interaction and proceeds through the design and evaluation of tangible and multi-touch surfaces, and interactive environments. Dr. Antle holds Bachelor degrees in Systems Design Engineering and Liberal Arts from the University of Waterloo, Canada and a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia, Canada. Before returning to academe, Dr. Antle spent eight years in the new media industry working as a senior designer, executive producer and consultant.
Susan Rowley, University of British Columbia
Dr. Susan Rowley is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and a Curator at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia. She is a member of the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) Steering Group. Most recently she was a member of the exhibit team for c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city and co-curator for the exhibit at MOA. Her personal research interests include public archaeology, material culture studies, representation, repatriation, intellectual property rights and access to information on cultural heritage.
Jordan Wilson, University of British Columbia
Jordan Wilson is a graduate student and co-curator of the exhibit c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city, at the Museum of Anthropology. He's of European and Indigenous ancestry, and a member of the Musqueam First Nation. He is currently in the Masters of Arts program in the Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia. His research interests include community collaboration and Indigenous-museum relationships, issues of representation, material culture studies, Indigenous art history, community/oral history, and Indigenous/community-based research. Jordan has spent time researching and receiving training at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the University of Tromsø in Norway, and at the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM. 
Brendan Matkin, Simon Fraser University
Brendan Matkin is an MA candidate in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) at Simon Fraser University. His research interests include building and studying tangible interactive systems with embodied cultural values, distributed interactive systems, and maker culture. Brendan is a designer, artist, researcher, technologist, and all around maker and tinkerer. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in New Media from the University of Lethbridge.


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