Collection of Objects vs. Ideas and Events

More often museums are asking for personal input on their experiences of an event or simply on their opinion of their exhibitions. Some outlets utilize a survey or request a phone number for an oral report. Others request that photographs and video be sent in. Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly note that Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig claimed “that collecting history through digital archives can be far cheaper, larger, more diverse, and more inclusive than traditional archives.” Participatory history shows a unique experience that is lost when given a more broad scope. An example of how participatory history gives such greater detail can be seen when studying the Lodz Ghetto in WWII German-occupied Poland. When reading a personal testimonial from the diary of Dawid Sierakowiak a historian can learn how little food the Jews of Lodz were given, how they got their information about the war, and where they worked to fuel the German war machine. In keeping with the theme of the Lodz Ghetto, Sheila A. Brennan notes in “Getting to the Stuff…” that the Children of the Lodz Ghetto project of the Holocaust Museum has gone out to request information on potential survivors of this particular Ghetto. Since there were so few survivors and little information surrounding their fate, this type of crowd sourcing has worked to fill in the gaps in history.

Technology Enhancing Exhibitions

Dr. Meringolo notes in one of her blog posts how a tool called “ThingLink” can enhance an historical image. Tags can be placed, for instance, over an individual’s face. When a cursor scrolls over the tag, additional information information is shown. This makes a picture say far more than a thousand words. Additionally, Dr. Meringolo mentions “Map Warper”, a tool that overlays old maps with more recent ones. In a physical museum, if a tablet with these tools was presented alongside an object, a greater level of geographical and biographical context can be reached through interactivity.

Museums: a Marketplace For the Exchange of Ideas

What we begin to see with participatory history is the opening of a dialogue. The discussion is not just between the curator and the contributors. Contributors are being brought together and drawn into discussions about their common experiences, or the validity of other contributors information. This process not only improves quality, but builds a community that breathes new life into a project. Martha A. Sandweiss notes how metadata, especially when relating to photographs, is often “uneven” in quality. A solid community can improve metadata quality by citing a photographer or ameliorating copyright information. A dedicated community seems to be the most essential part of undergoing a digital history project. Once accomplished, the work seems to be done for you.


2 thoughts on “Symbiosis

  1. i really like your subtitle, “a museum is a marketplace for the exchange of ideas”. A museum is a great place to breed new discussions and ideas about the subject at hand and beyond. With this “marketplace” we can truly discuss more and therefore learn and teach more about a certain topic. you are right, a dedicated community seems to be the most essential part of undergoing a history project.


  2. There is a growing trend to allowing more of an exchange of ideas and experiences between museums and their visitors. Some museums ask visitors to contribute their experiences and others have experimented with allowing visitors to choose which artifacts will be included in exhibits. The exhibit I just curated is supposed to have a section for visitors to share their experiences in shopping in Baltimore (I’m not able to be there for the actual installation so I don’t know if this part is going in or not). But since this exhibit was designed to elicit a sense of nostalgia, I wanted to give visitors a chance to share their memories if they wanted to. Museums are becoming more interactive and encouraging the exchange of ideas rather being distributors of information and knowledge – I think is a very good thing and makes museums more interesting for the visitors.


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