Imaging Sacred Artifacts: Ethics and the Digitizing of Lichfield Cathedral's St Chad Gospels

In: Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture
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  • 1 USA

This essay examines complexities that attend digitizing a cultural heritage artifact that is sacred to a contemporary community. It argues that scholars must first determine how the artifact participates in the life of its community. If this participation is integral, scholars should treat the artifact as a present-day cultural phenomenon, inseparable from its community. To explain the implications of this shift, the author turns to ethnography, which has a lengthy tradition of interacting with communities for generating research. Photographing a sacred artifact is not unlike other ethnographic research, whether tape recording stories, collecting documents, or gathering information about social practices. To guide digital work, the essay proposes ethnographic ethical principles, demonstrating their value in digitizing the 8th-century St Chad Gospels at Lichfield Cathedral, England—supporting Jamie Bianco's recent call for an "ethical turn" in the digital humanities.

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