February 2 – Project Structure/Intro to Digital Exhibitions

///February 2 – Project Structure/Intro to Digital Exhibitions
February 2 – Project Structure/Intro to Digital Exhibitions 2018-01-07T14:25:17-05:00

Class Plan

  • History of the Sogdian Project at the Smithsonian – Nancy Micklewright.
  • Overview of recent trends in the development of digital exhibitions and museum interactives.
  • Omeka Workshop


Ross Parry, Recoding the Museum, (New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 58-101. (NYU | BGC)

Klaus Müller, “Museums and Virtuality,” in Museums in a Digital Age, ed. Ross Parry (New York: Routledge, 2010), p. 295-305. (NYU | BGC)

Areti Galani and Matthew Chalmers, “Empowering the Remote Visitor,” in Museums in a Digital Age, ed. Ross Parry (New York : Routledge, 2010), p. 157-177. (NYU | BGC)

Josh Goldblum, et al., “Considerations and Strategies for Creating Interactive Narratives,” in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings (Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2007)

Sogdian Digital Exhibition Thesis Developed at February 2015 Working Session

The Sogdians were the middlemen of the transcontinental trade known as the Silk Road, amassing great wealth which financed a flowering of civilization in their homeland, the area around Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan. But they were also purveyors of culture to their imperial neighbours, transporting craftsmen, artists, Buddhist monks and others, and introducing new artistic and religious ideas and contributing to military and diplomatic affairs in China and the west. This exhibition will use material atrifacts, text, and audiovisual media to create a fuller, multi-faceted portrait of the Sogdians, and tell the story of how their adaptability and mobility allowed them to influence the art and culture of people across Asia without the traditional trappings of empire wielded by the adjacent Iranian, Chinese, and Byzantine empires.

Sites to Visit

Visualizing 19th-Century New York

The Interface Experience: Forty Years of Personal Computing


  1. Select a digital exhibition that you have had a strong reaction to (love, hate, confusion, surprise…) and post a link to it in the comments describing your choice. Be prepared to discuss your selection in class. Think about how you use it, what is or is not there, who else would or would not use it, and what kind of external constraints might have affected the final product (politics, money, ability).
  2. Be thinking about your definition of ‘digital exhibitions.’

Digital Exhibition Responses

Aleena– Getty’s visualisation of the “Augsburg Display Cabinet” allows the user to explore the cabinet in detail in a way it won’t be possible to do in real life. The interior view is especially interesting as is the show structure feature. With such such access to an object, the user/viewer experience completely changes. I like that with such an interactive platform, information and labels are still provided and it doesn’t just become a sort of game.

Ariel – “Form and Landscape: Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940-1990” http://pstp-edison.com/  The Southern California Edison company has an archive of 70,000 images. While the full collection is available at The Huntington Library, eighteen categories have been created to highlight the archive online. The majority of the individual exhibitions include essays alongside the photographs. The design of some digital exhibitions leaves me with the feeling that I have missed information because information is tucked away on various pages; “Form and Landscape” is simply done and easy to navigate. That said, it was lacking in interactivity that would have added depth to the exhibition.

Christina – “Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections from the Bodleian Libraries” http://genius.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/
This is the digital exhibition of a physical exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries, which used its own collection to explore the concept of genius, how genius is manifested in books and manuscripts, and how “works of genius” are acquired, collected, and read. This digital exhibition allows visitors to view the exhibited objects in a variety of ways. Options include themes, subjects, timeline, map, and the floor plan of the physical exhibition. While not all the objects are in the timeline, having some of the objects visible in a timeline encourages the visitor to consider all of the objects in the timeline. Each object has a brief description as well.

Christine – “Whitney Museum of American Art” http://whitney.org/ The site is the museum that presents American art from the past when it first founded in 1931 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney until very recent years. The website introduces the types of collections including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, film, printmaking, video, installation, and new media. The collections serve as resources for its visitors to understand art history and the creative process of artists in the United States from the 1900s to today. Now the collections includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the U.S. The site categorizes its collections mostly by time era.

Joanna – “North American Mammals – Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History”  http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/main.cfm. This online database provides the visitor with searchable data on all mammals found in North America. The strength of this site is that the visitor can search using keywords, points on a map, the evolutionary family tree of mammalia, or by conservation status. I found the map feature to be of particular interest, because it allows the user to view map overlays of the habitats of many different mammals.  This site could be improved with more visual offerings on each species, such as photo or video of animals in the wild.

Julie – “Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece” http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be/#home. This site is the result of a full documentation and restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece, a project supported by the Getty Foundation. The visitor can click through the different panels of the altarpiece to discover not only the condition the painting was in pre- and post-conservation treatment, but also see infrared and X-ray photography to understand how it was made and assembled. I love that a single object serves as the anchor for the whole site. It is a design strategy that is both elegant and easy to navigate.

Leslie -“Pottermore” https://www.pottermore.com/ So Pottermore used to be an interactive game. Users would follow the stories from the Harry Potter books by completing tasks (i.e. making a Polyjuice Potion). Along the way, additional information, such as backstories on characters, became available. However, the site was relaunched this past fall. The only remaining game-like qualities are the sorting and wand selection. There is a promise of more “features” to come. The site now mainly features J.K. Rolwing’s extra writings that expand on the wizarding world, Buzzfeed-like articles, and information on new projects like Fantasic Beasts and Where to Find Them. There are still histories and profiles, but the game is gone. It is well linked, so jumping from articles to profiles is easy, and the new style of the website is quite beautiful.

Liz – “Pearls of Wisdom: The Arts of Islam at the University of Michigan” http://lw.lsa.umich.edu/kelsey/pearls/index.html  I understand the basic flow of this digital exhibit (introductory text and themes, leading to a choice of highlight objects, leading to each object’s own explanatory text), which mimics a physical museum experience. But the incidental and non-obvious object connections that would take the visitor on their own path aren’t there. For example: the “related object” field for the cupbearer blazon textile only contains a vessel also depicting a cup, with no outlets for questions about textiles, Mamluk Egypt, colorants, the use of wine, the object’s survival/provenance, etc.

Maria – “France-Japon, une rencontre, 1850-1914”  http://expositions.bnf.fr/france-japon/ French National Library puts online several thousands of documents from its collection of Japan-related documents and objects. It is an excellent tool for the researches and the lovers of Japanese art and history. It is divided into 4 sections, the first presenting two virtual exhibitions, of Japanese prints and of First photographs, the second including several albums of Japanese arts and crafts, the third having links to Japan-related documents on BNF Gallica site, and the forth linking to external resources. I loved the inclusiveness of the site, and the amount of links to various other resources.

Matthew – “Byzantine Collection” by Dumbarton Oaks, http://www.doaks.org/museum/byzantine/

Dumbarton Oaks is an eclectic museum/research library in DC.  Among various exhibits (ranging from Medieval to Pre-Columbian), of note is their Byzantine Collection.  Their online exhibit, while containing far more than their physical exhibit, is poorly laid out.  While aesthetically pleasing, the links between the main page and other significant portions of the database, such as the actual listing of objects in the collection or their vast online catalogue of Byzantine seals, are buried in paragraphs of text.  It seems almost that this is the result of two websites having been combined into one.  That being said, once you have gotten to the databases themselves, the objects are well organized with well written descriptions.

Sarah – “The Gallery of Lost Art”  http://galleryoflostart.com/

The Gallery of Lost Art is an immersive, online exhibition that tells the fascinating stories of artworks that have disappeared…. destroyed, stolen, discarded, rejected, erased, and/or ephemeral. Curated by the Tate and designed by digital studio ISO. Set in a virtual warehouse setting, the visitor discovers photographs, letters, letters, newspaper cuttings, archival images, and essays at their own pace and leisure.  The plethora of information available would be impossible to fit into a physical gallery. Even though it is a digital exhibition, it had a “closing date” and was itself lost after a year. I did not experience the live exhibit (open July 2012-13), but it’s residual impressions are conceptually unique, with a good balance of play and content. Additionally, the ability to download some of the exhibition content is something new – giving the visitor a different sense on ownership and access.

Soley – “The Attention Experience” by Scratch at Viacom  http://www.viacom.com/inspiration/attention/anim/index.aspx

The Attention Experience is a both a physical, hands-on exhibit hosted at Viacom HQ in New York, but also a dynamic, digital exhibit of information and research. The exhibit presents current research on the economy of consumer attention and how commercial industries can apply said research to their business strategies. The content and interface of this digital exhibition stood out for me. The content, although targeted for commercial entities, also directly replies to the museum context. As leisure activities proliferate, so too does the desire of museum’s to retain and understand visitor’s attention. Additionally, this digital exhibition is interactive without being complicated—the only action available for the user is an up-down scroll. This digital exhibition is streamlined and effective, linear yet dynamic, and carries a clear and digestible story all the way through.


“Historic Threads: Three Centuries of Clothing” by Colonial Williamsburg’s Museum Collection invites visitors to learn about Euro American fashion from the 17th-19th centuries. The visitor can choose to either “Learn” and be led to explanatory texts or “Explore” and be led to images paired with object descriptions. Although the site offers a wealth of information, its value as a resource and as its level of interactivity would have been greatly enhanced if the visitor could see and manipulate images of the garments in the round and be able to zoom in close enough to see the garments’ stitch work.


How to Post Your Digital Exhibition Information

  • Log in to the site
  • Go to this page on the site
  • Click Edit Page
  • Find your first name in the edit box and add your text


  1. jbellmare February 1, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    In the chapter titled “Recalibrating Authenticity,” Ross Parry argues that despite a perceived opposition between the ‘real’ and the ‘digital,’ virtual possibilities can in fact fit right into the long-established imaginary and informative modes of delivering visitor experiences in museums. Although Parry argues convincingly for the use of the virtual in these contexts, he does not address the role of digital media as marketing tools. Are online exhibitions, even when unattached to a physical exhibition, likely to attract more visitors through museum doors?

    In “Empowering the Remote Visitor,” Galani and Chalmers discuss the different museum experiences and interactions when on-site and remote participants are enabled to conduct a shared visit via technology. On page 163, they state that after the visit, the participants “were given a mixture of open-ended and focused questions about Mackintosh’s work,” but these test results are not discussed in the latter part of the paper. This prompts the question: who retained more information from the exhibition, the on-site or the remote visitors?

    In the reading by Goldblum et al., the authors state that HTML and Flash are the two main delivery methods for online content. Since the article was written in 2007, have any new major players come to replace these tools?

  2. Leslie February 1, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Both Goldblum and Müller mention hyperlinks in their pieces. They are the simplest form of interactivity and also an integral part of online exhibitions. These links connect parts of exhibitions to each other, making for a non-linear, but cohesive site. I was wondering if any museums have integrated hashtags that link their online exhibitions to social media sites. Would linking the exhibit to conversations about the exhibit (and not just within itself) be possible or at all beneficial to the exhibition?

    My next question is in the same vein. In “Empowering the Remote Visitor,” Galani and Chamlers emphasize the social aspects of the museum experience. The essay goes on to describe a museum visit between a group of local and remote visitors, which was pretty cool. However, I want to know if there are people working on developing ways that conversations between remote visitors can happen. Are there online exhibitions that have little chat bubbles that pop up? Again, are any museums utilizing social media to begin conversations between remote visitors? Is there a way to do this, at all?

    Finally, in the Müller piece, I was wondering if these digital exhibitions could be seen as a detriment to the museum. For example, has physical attendance at the Met decreased since the launch of the Google Art Project? Or is there something to be said about Benjamin’s aura?

  3. jbyrne February 2, 2016 at 3:42 am

    In “Rescripting the Visit”, Ross Parry points to MacDonald’s argument that collecting is a ‘way of maintaining some degree of control over the natural world’ and ‘an attempt to manage the empirical explosion of materials…’ (Parry 87). What becomes of this impulse in the face of the current explosion in available content? Has the notion of the encyclopedic museum run its course?

    Both Parry and Muller propose that the move from physical display to digital is simply an extension of the ways in which museums have always acted on objects in order to interpret them (Parry 97, Muller 297). Parry points to the web as “just another of the multiple channels that museums were already building”. Does this ring true in 2016? Is the digital just the latest in a series of adaptations, or does the move toward online presence present a fundamental change in the function of the museum?

    Digital collaboration between museums can provide infrastructure and greater visibility to collections of varying sizes. How do collaborations like AMOL, CHIN, or Joconde (Muller 299) affect the individual institutions involved? How does this play out when member institutions are oriented around completely different missions, institutional goals, or community needs?

  4. sestets February 2, 2016 at 4:26 am

    In Museum and Virtually Klaus Muller states, “Such increased access might lead to a change from the current emphasis on the composition and arrangement of artifacts to an open and interactive approach that permits visitors to become commentators, contributions, or even co-producers” (302). In order for a museum device or technique to have an “interactive approach” do visitors—whether on-site or online— have to become commentators, contributors or co-producers?

    In Recoding the Museum, Parry introduces the British Museum’s exhibition Mummy: the inside story as a successful use of virtual reality in the museum context (75). Soon after, Parry states “Whether in noticing that the trees in Piccadily were not real, or that the mummy on the screen is only a picture, museums’ staff and audiences have colluded over many centuries to develop a subtle visual literacy that has always managed to distinguish the authentic” (76). In this statement, Parry seems to suggest museum audiences are strengthening their visual literacy to distinguish the authentic from what is not. However, is this true? Or has virtual techniques become so sophisticated as to make it harder to discern the authentic from the ‘fake’. How much of the British’s mummy reconstruction stems from data? From interpretation?

    Each reading touches upon a different museum function in society—museums as sites of authenticity (Parry), of social connection (Galani and Matthew Chalmers), of cultural heritage (Müller). What other functions do museums have in society and how might digital strategies facilitate those functions?

  5. amalik February 2, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Goldblum’s article talks about HTML and Flash as the two best platforms to deliver content. However, if I think about my personal experience I am much more likely to be using a device like an iPhone or iPad, neither of which support Flash. While not everyone uses apple devices, a large majority do and in coming across a website using Flash, most (like me) are not likely to make the effort of turning on their computers to visit that website. I understand that this is an older article. Are the limits of Flash a major consideration nowadays?

    Is the existence of a website essential to the experience within a museum? Does a virtual presence of a collection or exhibition act as a hinderance to museums or does it help actual museum participation?

    Like Parry mentions in his article, museums represent ‘the triumph of the physical.’ With the advancements of technology (and the incredible details with which you can access collections and objects), is the virtual becoming more real as far as user experience is concerned? Is too much access to museum objects making their physical presence in museums obsolete or at least making actual museum experience somehow lesser than a virtual experience? (also referring to the link posted in the digital exhibition assignment)

  6. eneill February 2, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Both Muller and Goldblum talk about the architecture of the virtual in different ways. Muller suggests that virtual programs “eliminate the physical dimension altogether” but also notes that “the dichotomy between the real and virtual is misleading and obscures their commonalities, simplifying the multiple meanings objects acquire through cultural history” (297). He goes on to suggest seven building blocks necessary to creating these virtual programs: space, time, links, storytelling, interactivity, production values, and accessibility (301-302). These building blocks nevertheless would not be out of place in a physical museum’s plan of action, and the interactive narrative structure goes along with the traditional museum objective of education through storytelling. Goldblum mentions both choosing between languages that guide outcome possibilities and wanting an interface and structure that was not transparently visible to its visitors. How can we look at these virtual “architectures” and the languages used to create them?

    How can authority be expressed through virtual interfaces? Muller claims that “as information becomes more and more accessible, hierarchical communication makes less and less sense.” The issue of authority and authorship is still present in physical museums. Scholarly articles must be cited to exacting standards, but museum exhibitions rarely include any specific references or even author attributions for their accompanying text, relying on their tradition and history to imply knowledgeability. Goldblum’s example of bluecadet being praised as a group of talented high school students (and the disconnect in expressing authority and ownership seen there) emphasizes the need for clear expression of authority but also authorship. Conversely, “museum” implies a certain cache that has been used by non-traditional and at times commercial institutions, the International Art Museum of America being a prime example: http://www.iamasf.org. Who is ultimately responsible for museum or educational virtual content? Are content creators privileged over designers? Should there be a standard for online museums?

    One of the “practical considerations” raised by Galani and Chalmers is the unexpected navigation of visitors due to their interactions with other visitors, both local and remote. For purely digital exhibitions, as opposed to their mixed physical and remote environment, can there be such uncharted interaction with other visitors? In the digital effort to reach out to wider audiences, is the experience becoming more individual?

  7. achaffin February 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    At one point, Parry highlights labeling collections. This made me think, how many systems of labeling were used before museums settled on the labeling method most commonly used today?

    When Parry addresses museums going online and the removal of control of the “circumstances, place and location of that visitor”, I couldn’t help but wonder why it mattered. I understand how the museum can control the experience, to an extent, of a physical visitor in the exhibit, but why does it matter that the museum cannot control where the online visitor physically is (i.e. home, work, school, etc.) or what time of day it is?

    In Recalibrating Authenticity, it mentions that many institutions didn’t have long-term funding in place to manage their digital material. Then, in Muller’s article, it points out that American museums have had to find funding for digitization. Those made me think, do the digital exhibitions make any money for the museum? Or do they require a lot of money to produce, but do not add value monetarily?

  8. Christina February 2, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    In “Recalibrating authenticity” in Recording the Museum, Parry discusses the physicality of objects in museums and writes, “[Similarly,] it has been the essential physicality of the objects on display (their size, their distance from the visitor, and the sense of what it might be like to touch them) that has directed readings of some modern museography.” (pg. 58) How can the physicality of objects be conveyed in digital exhibition? How can objects be examined differently in digital exhibitions that would not be possible physically? Or rather, what are ways the objects can be examined in digital exhibitions not physically possible, such as the British Museum’s exhibition Mummy: the inside story (pg. 75-76)?

    In his discussion of authenticity, Parry notes that some were concerned about the “authenticity” of the digital. For those with that concern, how are digital models, images, or objects, different from physical models or replicas used in a museum? (pg. 63)

    In “Museum and Virtuality” in Museums in the Digital Age, Müeller claims the interpretation by museums is lacking online when he writes “In addition, their mission, requires that they interpret and exhibit the unique objects entrusted to them. Thus far, this aspect of the museum’s mission has not made its way to the Web.” (pg. 300). How can museums add to interpretation to their existing digital collections? How can museums just beginning to build their collections digitally include interpretation from the start? What are interpretative possibilities exist digitally that do not exist in the physical museum?

    In “Empowering the Remote Visitor,” Galani and Chalmers discuss the results of several different visitor surveys and studies, all for physical visits to a museum (pg. 161). What constitutes an online/remote visitor? How can online/remote visits be studied and surveyed in a meaningful way?

    Goldblum et al.’s “Considerations and Strategies for Creating Interactive Narratives” was written in 2007. At one point, they discuss reasons to use HTML or Flash. How much has programming and designing websites changed since their article was written and what does this mean for museums, particularly digital collections and exhibitions?

  9. solsen February 2, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    All four readings express concern and offer case studies to better understand the possibilities of using digital resources to enhance and not inhibit visitor experience and increase accessibility all while supporting the continued importance of the physical museum.

    What is most important for museums to translate from the physical museum visit to the digital experience? -Or- Can a digital exhibit experience be created/successful without elements of the physical museum experience?

    Muller, between pages 297-298 discusses the difference between objects on display in a physical museum with the benefit of lighting, video, and audio content. He then goes on to say that “Removed from a physical space, however, the digital experience might encourage a more rational reception of the artifact on display.” Is this necessarily so? How can theatricality add to the value of the online experience?

  10. mdischner February 2, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Much of the fear of digitalization and fear of the replication replacing the real seems to stem from a misunderstanding or ignorance of how people generally use the internet as a tool. Can we attribute our recognition of this due simply to hindsight? Were these fears ever legitimate?

    I find the relationship between two of Muller’s seven aspects, Time and Links, to be essential. Poor web design makes accessing links more difficult, thus increasing the time to information. This is my main frustration with the Database I analyzed for class today. Are any more of these seven aspects highly interrelated? I feel that links would affect the quality of every other aspect.

    Galani and Chalmers focus on social interaction in museums seems spot on. In my own personal experience, I agree with most of their comments. But how can we relate this to an exhibit that is entirely digital? Forced digital social interaction can often be more off putting that successful. Is there a way to recreate a spontaneous and pleasant social atmosphere in an online exhibit?

  11. mslautina February 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    The following general questions emerged in my head after the readings: will virtual museums attract new public to them, or they will simply be new information channels for usual visitors to physical museums (Galani and Chalmers refer to “remote” and “local” visitors, which might both be relating to the second category, or might be relating to the first and the second categories respectively, depending on the context)?Won’t it eventually lead to a devastation of currently existing museums?

    Are nowadays technologies sufficient to fully and meaningfully engage in a virtual museum experience? In another words, is the question of digital museums more technological, or more human?

  12. Sarah Fisk February 2, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    As stated at the end of the Yearbook 2006 case study, credit and authorship of the digital project was often given to the high school students and not the numerous designers and experts involved. (Goldblum, J. et al. http://www.museumsandtheweb.com/mw2007/papers/goldblum/goldblum.html) The article attributes this to the decision to not align themselves with a museum or trusted cultural institution. Museums are moving away from the singular, authoritative voice and embracing collaborative authorship so this prompts the question of ‘When does a blurring of authorship, prevalent in digital media, begin to take away from the content of an exhibition and when does it enhance it?’

    Muller touches upon the financial means necessary for technological expansions (299).and includes ‘Production Value’ as one of the seven requirements for online exhibitions (302). How much does digitization really cost in 2016? With small museums and cultural institutions (which make up the majority) in mind, how can they find sufficient funding and grants to stay relevant and keep up with museums, like the MET, who have entire digital departments?

    All of the readings grapple with a museum’s need, or lack there of, for a physical space to exist in order to understand art or have a museum experience. I side with Galani and Chalmers when they assert, “a more fruitful way of looking at mixed reality experiences in museums is to treat all media – new and old – as potentially equal resources in the course of interaction” (165). If museums do not have an internet presence or lack in digital experiences, are they no longer fulfilling their mission to provide access to their collections to the most diverse public possible?

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