Digital Exhibitions: Museums A Key-Stroke Away

This concept of the Museumbot that Lubar discusses seems a completely worthwhile project. It parallels efforts of archivists to digitize primary sources, but goes much further at placing historical significance of the cultural item than the disconnected historical photographs Onion criticizes: “At its best, Twitter acts as a portal, a place where knowledgeable guides point you to ever-more interesting corners of the Web. The history-pics accounts treat Twitter as a static medium, where each photograph is a dead end.”

I see Lubar’s proposal as more important to the issues of access and usability: “What if we could design a museumbot for the other choices in this list? Could we tweet random things offered to museums, or turned down, to show the collections choices that curators make? Random things on display, to expand my notion of what areas of the museum I like to visit, or what catches my attention? Random objects in various departments?”

I might point out I do not have a Twitter account, but a quick search revealed quick list for a number of impressive museums.

I think there is an underlying implication here for unparalleled access to the museum artifacts and acquisitions. Think of the all the unique artifacts and acquisitions museums have all over the country. I would love to see museums take efforts to digitize photos of random objects from collections, they could then use a crowdsourced like application to perhaps provide met-data or organizational data. Somewhat similar, but more scientific based project, is Snapshot Serengeti. Based off hundreds of field cameras, the project allows users to help scientists identify and organize animals observed in Africa.

Such projects applied to museums not only allows their collections and exhibits to move beyond the confines of physical space, but also provides new avenues for users to experience and interact with the museum. Fulfilling the all important aspect of connecting with people beyond passive observation in the museum, and as Sheila Brennan stresses, provides limitless possibilities for makes museums more “discoverable, open, or extractable.”

It is not just the question of access to material, but accessibility to the museum itself. The Seattle Art Museum, for example, undertaking efforts to allow people to tour the museum remotely. This would provide a high-tech solution for those unable to visit the museum in person, whether through location, schedule, or disability. The Palo Alto, based company calls its technology The Beam, leaving some to wonder whether, The Beam is “the first generation of something that might one day be as obvious as a wheelchair and as ubiquitous as a disabled parking spot.”

How is the “bot” pulling these items? Is it random? Are we supposed to consider this an archive? Or is it just a collection of disassociated images? What are to gain from it?

While the bot shows pieces of a collection and gives minimal historical information about the item (including provenience), it cannot evaluate whether the item is significant or relevant in any historical context. Everything inside the computer is a performance. “The terms performance (what computers do) and activity (what users do) are helpful for thinking about preserving digital culture and its unique properties.” The computer is performing the tasks it has been programmed to do, but cannot contribute to a further dialogue about why the public should care and what makes it important to add to the larger narrative.

Further Lubar says, “The museumbot calls attention to the necessity of making choices. The vast difference between its random choice and what I see in the museum points out that the choices have been made…The randomness of the museumbot calls attention to the choices that we take for granted.” This again goes back to interpretation and the “story” the historian is trying to tell or as Lubar says “to make a point.”

A quick addendum: I appreciated the appreciationbot commenting on the museumbots posts.

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2 thoughts on “Digital Exhibitions: Museums A Key-Stroke Away

  1. I really enjoyed your post and it definitely made me think a little deeper about the museumbot. To be honest, when I first read this my gut reaction was “this makes the word random seem a little negative” but from reading your post, I understand why that could be. Your quote “The computer is performing the tasks it has been programmed to do, but cannot contribute to a further dialogue about why the public should care and what makes it important to add to the larger narrative” resonated with me. It’s easy to say that a museumbot is great because it showcases otherwise ignored items but we need to partner that work with efforts by the public to actually give that item meaning and context. If the public isn’t actually engaging with the object and striving to learn more, what’s the point of the musuembot? I also agree with your comments about the potential for other museums to use this technology to showcase their collections as well.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. I especially liked your remarks concerning greater accessibility to museum objects. Lubar in the same article discusses the possibilities for deaccessioned items. Even though I am familiar with the process of deaccessioning, I did not even consider the potential there. It is exciting to think that it can offer us an “un-do” button on our decisions as public historians to dispose of an object or deaccession it. Just in case, someone can still access some variation of the objects record in order to interpret it in their own way.

    I also enjoyed and agreed with your point regarding the continued necessity for the historical interpreter decision-maker. Although the role might evolve into something else, at the heart of it, technology cannot get at the historical significance. I completely agree!

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