The poor people who know me in the real world are well aware of my fascination with animals, creatures great and small. Particularly any type of amazing cinematography of everything associated with David Attenborough. I have always dabbled with the idea of becoming a zoologist, but had a distinct lack of confidence in my scientific ability, so I hot footed it to the alternate end of the alphabet and became an archaeologist instead. But that hasn’t stopped my growing interest and enthusiasm for animals (apart from cats. I do not like cats). I am also very interested in the display, interpretation and curation of Natural History in museums. It just so diverse and I cant get enough! I loved the Hancock Museum’s Natural History collection when I was growing up, particularly the massive Japanese spider crab, which still on occasion gives me nightmares. So being in London, I am spoilt for choice by Natural History collections all over the shop. However, despite being a part of UCL, I had until a couple of weeks ago, never set foot in The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy. Partly because I could never find the entrance. So I jumped at the chance to go see it, when I launched whole heartedly into a over excited worldwind of a project idea working with QR codes , tales of things, and the Grant Museum. I can not thank Mark the curator enough for not giggling too much at my puppy dog enthusiasm and for his absolutely brilliant ‘yeh, lets try it and see what happens’ attitude (As well as Andy and the guys over at Tales of Things who are also brilliant for letting me run wild). Despite meeting Mark at an event where he was talking about Video Games (I blogged about that here) I had previously seen him give a hilarious talk about how he hates the sea because of a whole manner of awful creatures who do quite disgusting things in it. Excellent. And the rest is history. We set up a project within a week of the initial idea and best of all I got to go to the Grant Museum! Which is a fantastic place, absolutely full of stuff, big stuff, little stuff, medium sized stuff, stuff in jars. Its brilliant. Mark also took me into the stores, which if you do work in museums is pretty mundane, its the collection you work with every day, but if you don’t work in museums, or its a collection you’re not familiar with, then its like a sweet shop! Whilst been showed around, I tried to stifle my poor brain going “oooooooooh!!!! What’s that!!!!! Oooooh what’s that?” at absolutely everything, and I think I managed to only ask a few stupid questions… “is that a jar full of moles?” and “where’s its head?” and “why have you got an exploded skull in your office?… oh so its not actually a skull that’s exploded, that is slightly disappointing”.
The Tales of the Grant Museum project so far has been brilliant fun, you can see what we are doing over at the Tales of Things site. Its providing an opportunity for anyone and everyone to scan a QR tag of an object and write what they think about it. It is also giving mark an opportunity to highlight some contentious issues in museum practice, is it right to display the label ‘bambi’s dad’ on a Red deer specimen? Is this an appropriate label? Is it too humorous for a museum? Is it trivialising death? All important questions for museums to discuss. As well as ideas about display and interpretation of objects with unknown provenance.
Sadly the Grant Museum is closing at the end of June, and Ive only just discovered it! But fear not it will be reopening in a new location in February next year. But in the mean time, if you are pootling about UCL before June 30th definitely check out the Grant Museum its an amazing place, and if you have and Iphone (you can download the Tales of Things app here) or android phone get scanning some QR tagged specimens, including the Grant museum itself.
Andy Hudson-Smith: Tales of Things: Archiving and Viewing the Cultural Heritage of Everything
Andy has spoken twice about Tales of Things, and I happened to be in the audience for both of them. It was very interesting to see the difference in audience reaction to the Tales of Things project. One group was very much concerned of the surveillance aspect, something I had not considered at all. And Andy, if you’re reading this, I enjoyed both the presentations and very much appreciate that you tweaked your presentation for the 2nd showing! I’ve spoken quite a lot about Tales of Things and QR codes in museums previously. But thanks to Andy’s brilliant presentation at the Autopsies Group, I got over excited and pounced on Mark, the curator at the Grant museum, who also spoke at the Autopsies Group, and we are now embroiled in a experiemental project involving Tales of Things (more about that in another post). Anyway… Andy spoke of Tales of Things and the opportunities it presents to cultural heritage institutions. Participation in heritage: hands on, two way, learning opportunities, social/community memory, any size, thought provoking. . . I simply love this project and the fact that Andy is also really passionate about it, makes it so much more appealing. And I quote: “i love the fact that that jumper talks” (referring to the Remember Me project where Tales of Things took over a Oxfam shop.
Following on from my blog post about Tales of Things; Ive been thinking a lot about QR codes, partly because the QR code for my mug of tea sits in front of me and I stare at it all the time. The codes themselves are actually quite hypnotic.
So who’s doing what with QR codes currently in museums and cultural heritage sites?
It is a brilliant opportunity to extend display space, provide more object information, link to online catalogue data, and to empower the visitor to interact with the object. I firmly believe the more interaction you have with an object, whether that be handling it, discussing it or viewing it online, the more you learn. QR codes also have an element of curiosity about them, as I said above they are hypnotic and eye catching, seeing one makes you go ‘oooooh whats that’ (well it makes me do that). What I really like about the possibilities of QR codes is that it connects the physical with the digital in real time. However, I have an iphone with a QR reader app. I am very aware that not everyone has access to the technology to do this. Perhaps spending time on QR codes and cultural heriatge is just simply reinforcing the digital divide and the idea of cultural capital: those that have, can, those that dont, cant. A sociological, digital, cultural dsicussion for another time perhaps?
Below are a few examples that I have found of places that are currently using codes in some way.
- University of Bath Library is adding QR codes to the details you see in the results of a catalogue search. It is an interesting example, a constructivist approach to learning, enabling students to become more involved in the process.
- Manchester Art Gallery has trailed QR codes in its Remembering Slavery: Revealing History display using codes to invite visitors to submit comments on the exhibition, and listen to and read poems and comments on some of the objects.
- The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney have also used QR codes. In their case they have trailed the codes beside exhibits to take the visitor to the online catalogue entry. Seb Chan explains the technical aspects in the here and here. Powerhouse have also used QR codes to give access to a free entry voucher. crafty. They have now moved on to the idea of shortened URL’s as an alternative to QR codes.
- I like the sound of is this example from the Fenimore Art Museum, where exhibition object labels with attached QR codes directs users to their blog, where there are comments associated with that particularly object. Encouraging onsite visitors to use the codes to link to the comments section and leave their own thoughts about the objects and the exhibition. Allowing onsite visitors to participate in online conversations is brilliant; its normally the other way round trying to get the online to broaden the reach of the physical site/object.
I really like the idea of being able to leave comments about a particularly object, particularly when in this situated way, rather than visiting the website at a later date or writing a feedback card after the visit. It feels very empowering to me, instant feedback, instant achievement. It also offers the ability for multiple perspectives to be displayed simultaneously, different layers of the story behind the object to be revealed and displayed.
What I would also like to see QR codes used for is in a large outdoor heritage site like Geevor, or up on the Roman Wall (you can get 3G signal up there I checked) – giving visitors an opportunity to find out more information and leave comments in areas where it isn’t easy to provide mounted information. Didn’t English Heritage try something like this with text messaging up at Maiden Castle a few years ago? Hmm. I wonder if that was successful. Does anybody know?
this is my mug of tea.
Tales of Things is part of a research project called TOTeM (tales of things and electronic memory) that explores social memory and the Internet of Things. Users can add stories to objects, enabling connections to be made to other people who share similar experiences. The possibilities this project brings are absolutely mind blowing. Automatically adding context to an object! and then unleashing visitors upon it, to add their interpretation. Just think of the possibilities this brings to museums! An opportunity to provide a greater understanding of an object’s past, and how it connects to the present, to its surrounding environment and what the viewer thinks of it. I love it.
One of the really interesting projects they are doing is with Oxfam. Providing context to charity shop items, putting the history back into objects with the Art Project: RememberMe.
for example: Vienna Travel Guide useful to someone, tagged given to an Oxfam shop, next person can scan the tag and find out about where its been before, and then add their own memories. brill.
I cant wait to see how the project progresses.