UB and NUS Join Forces to Digitally Preserve Malang City’s Cultural Legacy

Dean, Presenters, and Lecturers of FCS UB
Dean, Presenters, and Lecturers of FCS UB

The Faculty of Cultural Studies (FCS) at Universitas Brawijaya (UB) has established digital humanities as its center of excellence. Beginning with a digital humanities workshop featuring Dr. Miguel Escobar Varela from the National University of Singapore (NUS), attended by lecturers last January, FCS UB is committed to enhancing its contributions in this field.

Driven by the desire to continue development and extend benefits to the community, FCS UB collaborated with NUS to digitise coffee culture as a cultural heritage in Malang City. This collaborative project involves lecturers and students from both universities who will collaborate for the next two years to integrate technology into Malang’s cultural preservation efforts. This cooperation is part of the UB Indonesia – NUS Singapore project on Digital Humanities for two years by the lecturers and students.

Dr. Varela, a lecturer and researcher in digital humanities from NUS, along with his seven students, arrived in Malang on Tuesday (6/4/2024). The first agenda during this visit was the exchange of knowledge as a preparation for the survey of this cooperation project.

Explanation of Material by Dr. Miguel Escobar Varela and Redy Eko Prastyo, S.Psi., M.I.Kom.
Explanation of Material by Dr. Miguel Escobar Varela and Redy Eko Prastyo, S.Psi., M.I.Kom.

Representatives from both universities gathered in the Hall of Building A at FCS UB on Wednesday (6/5/2024) to conduct a Guest Lecture and Workshop titled “Documenting Cultures.” The event commenced with remarks from the dean of FCS UB, Hamamah, Ph.D. He expressed a warm welcome and gratitude for the presence of Dr. Varela and his students, as well as Redy Eko Prastyo, S.Psi., M.I.Kom, author of the book “Intelektual Kampung: Manifestasi Sinergitas Kampung Lingkar Kampus,” contemporary musician, and initiator of Cempluk Cultural Village, as a speaker on Malang culture.

“We, at FCS UB, are committed to developing digital humanities, and learning from other international universities is one of our primary initiatives. We initiated this collaboration last year, and today’s workshop marks the beginning of the collaboration between FCS UB and NUS,” explained Hamamah.

Following this, Dr. Varela delivered his presentation on documenting cultural heritage with digital tools, expressing his gratitude to FCS UB before proceeding.

“My hope is actually aligned with FCS UB’s, which is to build networks with universities abroad, anywhere. Essentially, we aspire to foster synergies in how digital humanities are utilized in cultural contexts. Thank you very much,” said Dr. Varela.

He initiated a discussion on the concept of authenticity and invited students’ opinions. Collete, one of the NUS students, responded, “What I’ve learned is that authenticity is not static; there’s no clear dichotomy between authentic and completely fake; there are many layers to it. We may never find something that is truly authentic.”

Alyya, a student of FCS UB, added her perspective. “For me, ‘authenticity’ doesn’t necessarily imply something unprecedented; rather, it can signify the preservation of something existing. Introducing new solutions or approaches to existing phenomena can also be authentic,” she remarked.

Dr. Varela elaborated on the subjectivity of authenticity, heavily influenced by cultural and historical factors. He suggested that the concept of authenticity may be a Western construct and not universally applicable, cautioning against overly rigid preservation of culture, which could hinder its natural evolution.

Students and professors visit Kongca Cafe inspired by classic kopitiams in Singapore.
Students and professors visit Kongca Cafe inspired by classic kopitiams in Singapore.

To foster interactivity, Dr. Varela formed small discussion groups comprising students from diverse cultural backgrounds, addressing questions about authenticity, creativity, and documenting cultural heritage. This strategy facilitated lively discussions where UB and NUS students exchanged ideas, experiences, and cultural insights.

Continuing, Dr. Varela introduced various methods of cultural documentation, including interviews, photogrammetry, video, virtual reality, and systematic documentation. He elucidated the systematic collection and classification of data according to the object being documented, and shared examples, such as the Interactive Wayang Screen, exhibited at the Tembi Gallery, Yogyakarta.

After gaining insights into digital documentation methods, students delved into the culture and subcultures of Malang City, with Redy Eko Prastyo, S.Psi. M.I.Kom, providing insights into the city’s history and its influence on various cultures.

Students from UB and NUS visit Toko Kopi Panca at Oro-oro Dowo People's Market, Malang.
Students from UB and NUS visit Toko Kopi Panca at Oro-oro Dowo People’s Market, Malang.

The next day, students embarked on field studies to observe firsthand the lifestyles in Malang. Their first stop was the Oro-Oro Dowo People’s Market, a significant economic center established in 1932. They then explored several coffee shops, including Toko Kopi Panca, Toko Kopi Kongca, Sido Mulia Coffee Shop, Rumah Akasha, Klodjen Djaja, Pipir Lepen, and Warung Tenang, where they engaged with owners and employees.

One notable area of interest was Kajoetangan, known for its vibrant coffee culture, which marked the students’ final stop in their exploration of Malang’s coffee culture.

Subsequent discussions, held on Saturday (6/8/2024) at FCS UB, focused on concrete plans for digital documentation. Dr. Varela, Scarletina Vidyayani Eka S.S., M.Hum., and Tantri Refa Indhiarti S.S., M.A., guided students through a brainstorming session, emphasizing the importance of listening to diverse perspectives to foster collaborative work.

Through this collaboration, spanning the next two years, valuable documentation of Malang’s coffee culture is expected, setting a precedent for academics’ contribution to cultural preservation through technology. FCS UB aims not only to reinforce its position as a center of excellence in digital humanities but also to pioneer the integration of tradition and innovation for cultural sustainability. This synergy is anticipated to yield sustainable benefits for Malang and the broader international community. [dts/PR FCS]