May 26, 2021
Prompt: What is the relationship between knowledge and culture?
Object 1: Wunderbare Märchen nach den Gebrüdern Grimm (Published in 2011)- specifically Dornröschen (Little Briar Rose in English), first published in 1812
This book contains my favourite story, ‘Dornröschen’, which is the German variant of the fairy- tale ‘Sleeping Beauty’, collected by the Brüder Grimm 1. The moral of Dornröschen is that sometimes presents risks, but in the end, true love and family conquers all2. This is an interesting object as it demonstrates how socio-ethical values are gained through culture, however, messages that may no longer be socially acceptable arise.
This object enriches the exhibition because it teaches us about what a community has decided as valuable. My experience reading this as a little girl reflected this as I believed that in order to be truly happy in life, I need a strong familial support, which was shown in ‘Dornröschen’ as her family was always there for her, and the only character with no family is the Evil Fairy, who commits heinous acts throughout the story3. This belief can be seen in German culture as family is fundamentally important to most Germans, and people often identify its main source of value being the support family members have for one another4. This shows how culture influence the knowledge that is taught and shared in order to emphasise particular cultural values.
Another way in which this object contributes to the exhibition is that it questions whether the intended message is being absorbed by the audience. Re-reading this story as a teenager I question the message of ‘true loves kiss’, as taking away a woman’s authority and sense of self by allowing men to dominate them sexually and emotionally is dangerous for young children to digest. Furthermore, this makes me wonder how valuable the knowledge gained from ‘Dornröschen’ is, since cultural norms change overtime. Therefore, this illustrates that knowledge gained through culture can sometimes be unclear and not applicable to different time periods.
Object 2: Ayahuasca
This is a photo taken in 2004, of the traditional preparation of Ayahuasca in the Province of Pastaza, Ecuador, however the preparation is the same across the Amazon Basin. Ayahuasca is a South American psychoactive brew, used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin5. In recent years, there have been increasing western usages of Ayahuasca, for recreational and medicinal purposes, however the experience greatly differs6.
This object enriches the exhibition because it demonstrates that culture allows us to learn new knowledge, which can be applied in non-traditional settings. Through the cultural usage of Ayahuasca, medicinal benefits were discovered, allowing Ayahuasca to help treat psychological disorders7. A specific example can be seen in a woman who went on a retreat and claims that “it allowed me to heal from my emotional trauma”8. The Innuits’ cultural understanding of Ayahuasca has allowed them to discover the benefits, however, a lack of cultural understanding prevented the exploration of the medicinal properties in America and Europe.
This object also contributes to the exhibition as it highlights how knowledge cannot be gained if the person does not have the cultural understanding. For indigenous users, Ayahuasca has spiritual benefits that are related to the ritual aspects of consuming the tea6. Indigenous Amazonian populations say they learned how to combine Ayahuasca directly from the plants by observing their elders, but for westerners such an assertion is beyond their familiar paradigm5, showing that they lack the knowledge of how to use Ayahuasca due to their limited cultural understanding. As perception is affected by culture, and knowledge is gained through perception, culture therefore influences the way that information is understood. Additionally, through consuming Ayahuasca, the indigenous users are able to discover information about their heritage, which contrasts with the non-indigenous users, where it is mostly a ‘quick-high’ that they do not gain knowledge from. This shows how culture is necessary for people to understand specific knowledge.
Object 3: 1947 propaganda poster on the ‘Second Red Scare’
This 1947 pamphlet produced by the Catholic Catechetical Guild Educational Society, in St Paul Minnesota, was part of a ‘Second Red Scare’ in the US, that raised fears about the horrors of a communist takeover.
This object enriches the exhibition because it demonstrates that knowledge can influence culture in a negative way. In the time period of this propaganda poster, American society was gaining knowledge that communism was spreading, creating a deep-rooted fear of communism in American culture, influencing their political beliefs as they wanted to preserve their societal values. On the poster it can be seen how strongly the concern about the spread of communism is being portrayed with “Is this tomorrow”. A sentence that would typically be phrased as a question is expressed as a statement, demonstrating that this is an attempt to enforce the message that communism is a negative political regime, and that the only correct way of thinking is to be anti- communist. This led to McCarthyism, which links to the rejection of Constitutional rights by kidnapping and interrogating, illustrating that knowledge of communism caused a change in cultural beliefs and actions. Therefore, knowledge can impact societies negatively if their cultural values disagree with the information being spread.
This object also contributes to the exhibition because it illustrates how aspects of culture can lead to exaggerated knowledge being spread. In the case of the propaganda poster, the information that communism is this dangerous system and that communists are evil is not true, especially as it is from a biased perspective. The United states is a conservative country with specific beliefs that relate to their political agenda, and in order to protect that, the knowledge of communism was spread in order to only show the negative aspects. This demonstrates how strong cultural beliefs can result in erroneous knowledge being shared and believed.