"Technologies could have been otherwise"

ESHCC alumni lustrum event on Storytelling in a Digital Era
Alexander Santos Lima

On Tuesday the 9th of April, we welcomed alumni, students and staff members of all three departments of Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) on campus for an inspiring afternoon during which we explored the significance of storytelling in an increasingly digital world. 

After a word of welcome by Martine van Selm, Dean of ESHCC, Professor of Digital Cultures Sally Wyatt shared some general lessons learned in the forty years she has been doing research on ‘digital technologies’. In this time, she has seen many types of digital technologies emerge and disappear, and witnessed the rise and fall of hypes about the transformative qualities of digitalisation. 

Sally presented four lessons learned from living in a digital culture, one of them being “Technologies could have been otherwise in past & in future (Bijker & Law)”. She explained that technology will not always be the way it is now, it depends on the way we shape it. She also showed us that things we take for granted, such as roads and bridges, can have very political meanings behind them, and how digital technologies have been used massively to profile and discriminate. 

João Gonçalves then introduced four AI models that were showcased at the event and how they relate to the work of our faculty. During the breaks, participants had the unique opportunity to try out the Erasmian Language Model, Diversity Perspectives on Social Media, and GPT-4 as a co-creator.   

In the break-out sessions, we took a closer look at the role of narratives and digitalisation in cultural heritage, arts & creativity and brand storytelling.

Recap break-out sessions:

Cynthia Liem presenting during Arts & Culture panel session during ESHCC alumni lustrum event
Alexander Santos Lima

Would you take AI as your co-author? Do you fancy AI generated music? What prevents you from adopting AI at work? And is AI the best tool for the job? These questions were at the core of this break-out session moderated by Trilce Navarrete (Assistant professor at the Department of Arts and Culture Studies, ESHCC). 

The session started with an ignition talk by Cynthia Liem, Associate Professor at the Multimedia Computing Group in TU Delft. Cynthia proposed “art is human intention that connects and activates us, and may challenge existing perspectives” – think of the music made during the lockdown in Italian balconies, or the 'fountain’ readymade sculpture attributed to Duchamp. She was critical of AI as a tool for ‘artistic enrichment’ that would undermine the personal discovery, the learning struggle, and the value of culture. 

ESHCC external PhD candidate Zeynep Birsel followed by presenting her research on the varied relationships between creative artistic work and AI, and raised some important questions. Alumni were most concerned with AI regarding issues of ownership (while 40% of attendees indicated they would definitely take AI as co-author) and saw the greatest opportunity in having assistance in work processes (AI was ranked as a tool, over creative partner, and language). 

Femke Vandenberg, Arts & Culture alumna and assistant professor at University of Groningen, presented the audience perspective on the use of AI tools in music for voice cloning, for generating texts, and for training generation audio and text. According to the IFPI global report, audiences do seem to like AI generated content, but want to know when AI was used, believe human creativity remains essential to music, and believe artists should be remunerated when their content is used. 

Last, but not least Ivanna-Nikol Posobchuk, Arts & Culture alumna and  reflected on the challenges related to successfully adopting AI at cultural heritage institutions, including mistrust in the technology, lack of skilled staff, high human labour costs, and the need of interdisciplinary teams. The attendees were given a digital goodie bag that contained AI-related resources.  

We were thrilled to catch up with some of our alumni, and look forward to a follow-up online, at our alumni’s future events, or at the next AI event when we launch the AI in Art and Digital Culture expert practice at Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics (ECDA) on 28 May 2024.

Prof. Maria Grever providing a lecture during the ESHCC alumni lustrum event
Alexander Santos Lima

During the first part of this panel session, Maria Grever introduced the group to heritage in the public space. We can see examples of this in monuments, statues, street names or memorial sites. When we then consider this in the local, Dutch environment, we notice that monuments are rather small compared to other countries. Showcasing pictures of much larger monuments, Grever exemplified this with the statues of Bismarck and General Lee.

Here we are also introduced to the first relation between heritage, memory, and narration, as Grever notes the interesting fact that these monuments are often created decennia later. Her explanation: statues commemorate! 

Continuing her presentation, Grever presented the work of the KNAW commission that wrote the report ’Wankele sokkels. Omstreden monumenten in de openbare ruimte,’ which she chaired. This report centered around the question: What makes monuments in the public space contested and what are the prerequisites for balanced communication towards involved parties? These involved parties included policy makers and activists. The advice focused on statues related to two domains: colonial past as well as war and genocide.

Showcasing some of the results of the report, Grever refers to the case of the statue of J.P. Coen, the fourth general of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Coen has been found to be a stubborn and cruel man in relation to the massacre in Banda Lontor. It is explained that even contemporaries of Coen protested against his actions. Comments such as “that is how it used to be back then” are thus false claims.

Grever showcased that there is a difference in how victims of cruelties are commemorated with monuments too. In Hoorn, where you can find the statue of J.P. Coen, there is for example no monument for the victims of the colonial period. Referring to the KNAW report, she shared one of the solutions on the suggested scale of dealing with contested monuments in the public space: conceptual renewal. Circling back to the aforementioned point, this could be addressed through, as Grever mentions, “opposed statues”.

For the second part of this session, we were introduced to ESHCC History alumnus Dillon Heuser. Heuser was tasked to research the VOC and slavery past in Hoorn, specifically how their population and politics handled this. He explains that he had the difficult task of remaining neutral in a polarised debate. In his research he was criticised by both sides of the debate, underlining the emotional weight of the discussion. With his experience Heuser introduces his question for our discussion: What would we do in this situation? Remain neutral or integrate with the audience?

The session was concluded with a discussion related to the question posed by Heuser and the broader issue of dealing with contested monuments. Heuser explained that even though he made an inventory, bundled the history and presented further research possibilities, Hoorn has chosen not to make use of this. Grever noted the urgency of municipalities to create policies for and inventories of monuments, as this is currently not happening enough in The Netherlands.

Panel sessions members of Brand Storytelling in a Digital Age in discussion with each other in Forumzaal at Erasmus University Rotterdam
Alexander Santos Lima

This panel session was moderated by Jason Pridmore (Vice Dean of Education, ESHCC). First, the panel consisting of Media & Communication alumni Janelle de Weerd and Laura Mantilla Vargas, dr. Vivian Chen and dr. Freya De Keyzer, discussed how storytelling connects with work/daily activities and how this happens in a digital context. They argued that storytelling is about motivating people and keeping them engaged. Building a narrative to persuade and applying narratives to the sales processes and marketing content. 

Storytelling has not always been at the core of marketing, but has developed into an important and useful tool in community building and creating an emotional bond with clients and colleagues. In a sales context, personal stories are crucial. The use of digital tools help personalise these stories. 

The panel then explored the question what the effect is of AI on storytelling and how it affects their future work. Laura mentioned for instance, that there are great AI tools for video making and visuals, which is a great advantage as it saves a lot of time. At the same time is not all of the generated content usable. Another aspect one has to keep in mind when using GenAI for personalised content, is that the training sets are not very diverse. Janelle added that GenAI is different from other tech innovations. Following generations might get so accustomed to evolving tech, that they may forget thinking about the human factor. She argues that the implications are plentiful, so the winter of GenAI is coming and solutions must be figured out. 

A special thank you to all involved speakers for sharing their perspectives on storytelling and digitalisation during the keynote lecture and break-out sessions! We would also like to thank all alumni, students and colleagues who joined us. If you missed this event, check out our upcoming (alumni) events at: www.eur.nl/eshcc/alumni.

Photos ESHCC alumni event Storytelling in a Digital Era

Photos ESHCC alumni lustrum event

Photos ESHCC alumni lustrum event

Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima
Alexander Santos Lima

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