Traditions furthered with new technology

How can new technology develop and reinforce the traditions and cultural heritage of ethnic groups? How is traditional storytelling affected by technical advances? These questions are of interest to Coppélie Cocq, folklorist and researcher at Humlab. In her project Digital places for Sami cultural expression, she is studying in particular how technology is used in Sami storytelling.

eldmindreDigital places for Sami cultural expression is part of Media Places, and like the other researchers into the topic, Coppélie is interested in the interaction between online and offline. Coppélie Cocq is essentially a folklorist, a field which is not available as a separate field in Sweden but falls under the heading of ethnology.
"Folklore studies look at cultural forms of expression, such as how identity and communication are linked together. There is a lot of emphasis on storytelling, and in my research I have examined various types of storytelling," explains Coppélie.

New technology and Sami identity

Sami groups want to revitalise their language, culture and traditions using new technology. But what will happen to the old tales when they are placed in new technology and into a new context? In her study, Coppélie is examining the websites of big Sami names (such as the Sami Parliament and Sami Radio), along with other Internet locations in which Sami tales are published, e.g. on the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company website. She is also looking at how social media such as Facebook and Twitter are being used to reinforce the Sami identity and language. "Contrary to what you might think, new technology is ideal for preserving the traditional tales. Images, audio and other media can be used to create an interactive  experience in the tales online which resembles the verbal storytelling which is a vital part of Sami culture.

Sami tales as part of a current debate

There are important political aspects in the desire to publish and create information online.
"There are not all that many physical artefacts - buildings and monuments - in the Sami tradition. Respecting nature, not causing disturbances and leaving no traces is all part of their culture. This is why Sami people have often found it difficult to assert their interests against mining companies, for example, wishing to establish a presence at various Sápmi locations. How is it possible to prove that some tracts of land are part of the Sami cultural heritage when this proof is neither documented nor visible at the location? But there are tales available which lend weight to the locations, so they are a way of passing on knowledge about the history of Sápmi. These tales also provide an opportunity for anyone who has not had the chance to speak up when the history of Sweden was written down to give their own view of the country which they feel is part of their culture," says Coppélie.

Social media are also used to discuss current affairs and reinforce the Sami language and identity.
"The new technology has many functions in the Sami community. It creates and preserves tales and knowledge, it provides the opportunity to support language learning and to interact with others and pursue important social issues. For instance, an intensive debate is ongoing at present on who is entitled to native language education. Students have to demonstrate basic language skills to be entitled to teaching, but as many Sami parents were never able to learn Sami their children have no right to learn the language." 

Coppélie Cocq regularly meets up with other researchers from Media Places, and they often discuss method issues and ethical problems.
"Most of us in the group are actually fairly traditional humanists, and we are used to traditional research methods; sitting in archives, carrying out interviews, organising questionnaires and so on. By developing an interest in the relationship between the online world and the offline world in this way, we are also helping to develop a new research field for digital humanities. This is why it is good to be able to discuss the problems we encounter," says Coppélie.