Natalie Kononenko

Cultural Dialogues – Digital Means

In this day of increasing xenophobia and protectionism, establishing a dialogue between cultures is imperative.  If Canada is to maintain its legacy of multiculturalism and tolerance, we must find new ways to establish conversations between ethnic groups.  But presenting the distinctive features of a culture risks alienating other cultures precisely because the features are cultro-syncratic, to coin a word.  Digital presentation of culture allows for text along with images and sound; it is flexible and content can be easily altered if ineffective communication occurs.

Kononenko began work on digital presentation of culture in 2000. At the University of Alberta we built Shkola Zhyva to serve the Ukrainian bilingual program.  Teacher demand inspired Ukraine Alive, a site in English.  University of Alberta students then took the initiative and built websites that presented their own cultures to Alberta schools and beyond.  Thus India Alive and China Alive were born.

Students enjoyed presenting the countries from which they came and they yearned to document and showcase the expression of their culture here in Edmonton.  This led to the creation of YEG Cultures, a website that, to date, has posts about the Italian, Indian, Nigerian, and Ukrainian communities.  Additional units are currently being built and the site offers the opportunity for continued growth.  Maintained by the Arts Resource Centre, it can accept student and community contributions in perpetuity.

The research question posed by this applicant asks how digital media can help us walk the fine line between being distinctive and being misunderstood. So far the site has been tested with the communities documented.  Our next task will be to test our work outside those communities.

Natalie Kononenko is Professor and Kule Chair in Ukrainian Ethnography at the University of Alberta. She holds a BA from Radcliffe College in Slavic languages and literatures and an MA and PhD from Harvard University in Slavic and Near Eastern Folklore. Prior to coming to the University of Alberta, Kononenko taught at the University of Virginia, also serving as Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Kononenko has conducted folklore and ethnographic fieldwork in Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. She served as editor of Folklorica, the journal of the Slavic and East European Folklore Association and has published Slavic Folklore: A Handbook, the award-winning Ukrainian Minstrels: And the Blind Shall Sing, along with The Magic Egg and other books and articles. Kononenko is an award-winning teacher and researcher and her interests extent beyond folklore into the realm of digital technologies, an area that has received SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) support.