Focusing on completing my thesis rather than blogging has left a long silent spell on the blog, but here it is: My completed master thesis report Webudstillingen kortlagt
(Eng.: Mapping the Online Exhibition)
It’s in Danish, but has an English abstract for those interested:
Museums, like the rest of society, have entered into the digital age, and digitaly enhanced exhibitions have entered the museums. But when it comes to the use of online media, real exhibition experiences are rare, as museums tend to view the world wide web primarily as a platform for marketing the physical museum, or use it to provide access to digital collection databases. This project takes as its starting point the belief that online media offers unique opportunities for displaying museum content, thereby offering authentic museum experiences online; complementing the offerings of physical exhibits. My project is a study of this potential through academic research and concept development. The growing influence of new media and the realities of the experience economy offers new opportunities as well as new challenges for museums; one important aspect being a focus on ‘the user’. This paper describes the user experience in museums and shows how user behaviour online suggests the need for contextualisation and storytelling in museum presentations. Hence, simply providing information or allowing access to online collections has little value for a lay audience. In the project case study, focusing on The Royal Library in Copenhagen, I suggest how the current understanding and offering of online exhibitions could be challenged and enhanced by extending the visions formulated for the development of exhibitions onsite to include their online iterations. The paper then presents an overview of strategies for museums and exhibitions online, based on the categories of W. Schweibenz and S. Dietz and illustrated by current examples. Arguing that these categories do not present a complete picture, I propose some additions based on my own research, most notably the concept of ‘the social museum’. Next, following on from deliberations on ‘the object in the age of digital reproduction’, I will argue that the online medium holds certain unique inherent qualities. These allow for representations of museum artefacts that provide new forms of experiences and engagement, namely through interaction, exploration, immersion and communication. Yet, in keeping with McLuhan, media also holds the power to transform, and the inclusion of communicative media by museums has played a part in a shift of paradigm, meaning that the museum no longer speaks with an unassailable voice but is open for discussion. This change is not only induced by media, however, but also inspired by a change in the museum discourse. In the understanding of the ‘new museology’, the museum is a discourse and the exhibition an utterance within that discourse; a position which again brings the interpretations and personal meaning-making of the audience into focus as the purpose of museums. I argue that the same should apply to the online exhibition. I conclude this section with a discussion of the overall trends in museum online communication. On the basis of my theoretical findings in combination with research into and design explorations of the subject matter of a current exhibition at The Royal Library, I formulate a set of design criteria for the concept development of its online iteration. The exhibition Maps, Myths and Narratives tells the story of the historical mapping of North Greenland, but also aims to convey the complex nature of the map. In the paper, I describe how the concept utilises media qualities to engage the audience in this dual subject-matter, showing consideration to the actualisation of the collection; the exhibition utterance; user needs; personal learning; media potential; aesthetics and producability. I conclude that these design criteria and the research that led to them, rather than the concept itself, is the unique contribution of this project.
It has been a very interesting project for me to work on, and thankfully it was also well received by both my examiners and Diamanten – I received a top grade (12/A); a great completion of my M.Sc. degree in IT/ Digital Design and Communication. I really feel that I have gained a sound understanding of how museums communicate through social and digital media, and not least of how these media could be used even more extensively and interestingly to promote the collections and knowledge held my museums. Still, I feel that I have only scratched the surface, and am itching to pursue the topic further, academically and/or practically.