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To Be Virtual Or To Be Real – Is That The Question?

September 6, 2010

Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota

As a follow-up to my last post, here is a continuum of links that consider one potential of virtual museums in archaeology:

  • Digging Digitally is a blog that discusses “Archaeology, data sharing, digitally enabled research and education” and is an “unofficial” outlet for the Society for American Archaeology Digital Data Interest Group.  The blog posts regularly with discussions on web alternatives to peer review, 3D modeling for digital presence, and a very cool recent discussion and video on prehistoric acoustics in Peru.  The blog reports the wide-ranging discussion of the movement toward online data in archaeological research.
  • In what is described by some as a WordPress for Museums, Omeka.net is in development with a “mission to make collections-based online publishing more accessible to small cultural heritage institutions, scholars, enthusiasts, educators, and students.”  Omeka is a project of the The Corporation for Digital Scholarship that enables free and open-source research and education software.  The power of a resource such as Omeka speaks directly to Rachael Barnwell’s comment on last week’s blog post about virtual museums.  She noted that the Bamburgh Research Project does not have a museum home but must rely on a virtual presence to disseminate information about ongoing excavations.  Her comment leads to considering whether establishing a formal public museum in Bamburgh is a positive and logical next step toward enhancing the public’s access to the cultural heritage discussion of the area.  Conventional wisdom might answer yes.  But would such a venture be a prudent use of resources?  Can a virtual presence supplemented by activities in the broader community space but outside a formal museum venue be the best next step?  Can resources such as Omeka.net allow for the broad dissemination of collections and cultural heritage information without a formal museum setting?
  • A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, notes that individuals introduced to an art form via digital media, whether gaming or the Internet, were three times more likely to follow-up with a real-time visit to a museum or other arts venue.  The finding seems intuitive and in line with the intended function of many virtual promotions of cultural heritage.  How does an organization such as the Bamburgh Research Project respond to the “three times” increase in the public’s desire for a real-time experience, if there is no museum to attend?

This is where a recent post, The Decision Before the Decision, from Seth Godin’s Blog might prove useful:

The Decision Before the Decision

This is the one that was made before you even showed up. This is the one that sets the agenda, determines the goal and establishes the frame.

The decision before the decision is the box.

When you think outside the box, what you’re actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.

That decision is far more important and much more difficult to change than the decision you actually believe you’re about to make.

I suspect there are many “decisions before the decision” we need to question as we move forward in considering virtual and real-time museums and cultural heritage in the coming decade.

Your thoughts?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2010 12:54 pm

    This post was, as ever, quite thought provoking! Thank you for flagging these sites up – some of them were entirely new to me and look intriguing.

    A few thoughts you provoked in response:

    Can a virtual presence supplemented by activities in the broader community space but outside a formal museum venue be the best next step?

    – Well, the BRP certainly hopes this is the case! Just some of the ideas that we’ve floated amongst ourselves so far include:

    – Developing touring exhibitions – Made up of objects from our recent excavations, touring exhibitions would allow us to bring the work of the BRP to a much broader audience, both regionally and nationally in the UK. We could support a touring exhibition through a virtual presence.

    – Setting up community events that build on current activities e.g. a quilting activity with the local quilting group, stained glass and pottery workshops, poetry and creative writing (the list could go on – it’s a very crafty part of the UK!). We would like to use our collections to engage and inspire such groups.

    – Hosting or being part of larger events e.g. history festivals.

    – Taking conservation and interpretation work ‘onto the streets’ in the region by temporarily occupying vacant shop-fronts (of which there are sadly many at the moment).

    I think a lot of museums in the UK, especially small non-national museums, will face this problem in coming months. The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) will close it’s current museum space in 2011, but still plan to carry on exhibiting through touring to different venues.

    How does an organization such as the Bamburgh Research Project respond to the “three times” increase in the public’s desire for a real-time experience, if there is no museum to attend?

    This was another good question, and certainly prompted debate among staff here. My personal feeling is that if the activities mentioned above are provisioned sensibly, a “three-times” increase could be accommodated, especially given that we operate in a fairly rural area – our objects may actually prove more accessible to more people if we send them travelling. As well as being physically available to a broader geographical area,
    people who have an interest in archaeology but wouldn’t necessarily travel to see it could be engaged.

  2. September 17, 2010 12:57 pm

    I also wanted to add that the object should still stay at the centre of the work that we do when that object does have a physical form (objects that have always been virtual still perplex me a little). When writing about particular objects, the most valuable and enlightening thing to do can be to just look at the darn thing again!

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