Today, Sephardic culture is at the center of a phenomenon of cultural revitalization of Judaism in the Mediterranean, in southern Europe, encompassing processes of musealization and patrimonialization of synagogues or Jewish diaspora routes. Among the different forms of revitalization, the 'digital cultural heritage' and the civic involvement of these communities with digital technologies in local practices to safeguard the Sephardic cultural legacy stand out. Alongside the digitization of museum collections or the creation of digital learning systems for the Jewish-Spanish language, Ladino, we can now view on the internet a diverse set of channels and audiovisual documentation networks – such is the case of the digital news channel eSefarad.com, which gives the title to this project. Interpretive descriptions, film or photographic records, or historical-cultural reports produced by elements of Sephardic communities configure today a contemporary way of making heritage, which has the specificity of being digitally constituted. Noting a gap in the study of digital cultural heritage, this project intends to understand that new epistemological configurations are being conceived and implemented today from digital technologies, and their potential in the reestablishment of transnational cultural networks. The following central question arises: in its affective and symbolic involvement in the revitalization of a diasporic Jewish-Sephardic heritage – linked to the difficult memories of anti-Semitism – what uses and meanings does the 'digital' acquire for the Jewish communities?
This project proposes to investigate anthropologically the 'digital turn' in heritage through a comparative investigation of the following cases of patrimonialization: (i) the digital safeguard of the Jewish-Spanish language, Ladino, more specifically through the monitoring of the “Judeo-Spanish: connecting the two ends of the Mediterranean”, in collaboration with the Sephardic Center of Istanbul – which comprises the development of audiovisual language learning systems, the creation of a digital data center, machine translation and speech synthesis applications, and workshops on preserving minority languages; (ii) the digitization process of the “Judaica” collection of the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens and the aggregation of religious artefacts from this collection on the Europeana platform (Europeana.eu), an initiative developed by the European Commission; and, finally, (iii) the constitution of the permanent collection of the future Jewish Museum of Lisbon, Tikva, including the observation of the processes of collection, documentation and eventual digitization of heritage assets to integrate the collection, as well as their respective curation.
Tikva, the Hebrew word for “hope” that gives its name to this future museum, appears here as a way of expressing the “work of memory” carried out by the Jewish community in Lisbon in the “uncovering” of the heritage of “Portuguese Judaism”. In order to understand the heritage orientation of this museological project, it is necessary to put it in relation to a wider set of processes of musealization of invisible and/or difficult memories, that is, to understand the place of this future museum from the line of contemporary problematization of heritage studies. The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, whose permanent exhibition was curated by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, stands out here, due to the innovative nature of its design and practices of experimental curation.
The contribution to the understanding of the 'digital' as a tool for the preservation, revitalization and patrimonialization of the Sephardic cultural legacy will necessarily involve the comparative analysis of digitalization systems, access and transmission of knowledge, including the study of material culture and the heuristic practices involved in the teaching and learning of a disappearing language. It is also necessary to consider that in the digitization process metadata is created – information about the ‘physical’ objects that are being digitized – which poses a second challenge, to question: to what extent does digitization add value to the digitized ‘objects? From a more epistemological point of view, it is important to note that just as critical heritage studies have critically approached the conceptions, values and uses of heritage, this project also intends to think critically about 'digital heritage'; With this project, a third challenge arises: what are the concerns and practical solutions that are currently being thought and/or implemented for the selection and safeguarding of the heritage that is being digitally constituted?