Over at QRator HQ we believe that it’s really import to engage museum visitors actively in the creation of their own interpretations of museum collections, and one way of doing that is through digital tech. So we are experimenting with iPad’s and mobile apps and interactive digital labels to see whether they can create new models for visitor meaning making and the construction of narrative opportunities inside museum spaces.
Our testing ground is the Grant Museum (it’s awesome; once it’s relaunched in March you should all definitely go).
The Grant Museum of Zoology is one of the oldest natural history collections in England, dating back to 1827. The collection comprises over 68,000 skeletal, taxidermy and wet specimens (dead things in jars), covering the whole of the animal kingdom. Many of the species are now endangered or extinct including the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, the quagga and the dodo. Whilst maintaining the intriguing atmosphere of a densely-packed Victorian collection the new Grant Museum space offers the opportunity to showcase the historic collections, but to treat them in entirely different ways and to position the Museum as a place of experimentation, dialogue and debate. UCL is taking the opportunity to rethink what a university museum can be; a place not simply for a passive experience but for conversation – a cultural laboratory for the meeting of minds.
Through the QRator project the Grant will be experimenting with ways of using a natural history collection as a starting point for questions about science. Alongside displays of stuffed chimpanzees and extinct dodos, iPads will be scattered, asking provocative questions about the ways museums operate, and the role of science in society. I love that I get to work with really interesting people, who want to ask really interesting questions and push visitors to think deeply about their experiences. For me the Grant museum takes me to a place of wonder. It’s amazing to see all these weird specimens up close, and the grandeur of interior and Victorian type cases transports me to my childhood (I’m not insinuating I’m Victorian) where I loved going to the Hancock Museum (now the Great North Museum). It was the Hancock’s natural history collection which sparked my excitement for museums and learning. Being able to ask questions and stare for hours and ponder is a really important part of who I am, and the Grant Museum really exposes this part of me. I love the fact that I can now work with them to try and create a digital environment which encaptures that wonder and inquisitiveness and provokes responses and more questions from visitors. I really hope the QRator project can do it!
The Grant Museum doesn’t open until the 15th March, in the mean time we want people to join the conversation and ask engage in some Current Questions the first of these investigates the relationships and conflicts between pets and wildlife. It will be really interesting to interrogate what it means to be interested in animals. The Grant wants to get discussions going on how people relate pets to the wild animals represented in Natural history museums.
If you would like to join the conversation you can over on the QRator site. (NB. this is a temporary site, until QRator is fully launched in March)
I also add my own questions to this: how much should digital technology be involved in changing the dialogue between museums and their visitors? Does it become more about the technology than the content or the visitors? How do we overcome this?