Linking islands of data

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Fitzwilliam Museum

Abstract

Museum collections often include artefacts that do not seem to belong to a corpus and therefore are perceived as isolated. The lack of connections between these objects and wider collections mean that when they are displayed the lack of context and connections can make them difficult for audiences to understand. These difficulties around display and interpretation mean that curators are reluctant to display them so often they don't come out of museum storage, which means that audiences' views of the past can become skewed. Even when they are displayed, temporary exhibitions have a short life (3-6 months) and the requirements to create concise textual information mean that the non-expert audience will either struggle to view the artefacts or fully contextualise the artefact.

Through connecting museum collections holding related information, this project will improve the visibility of each artefact, enhancing the objects' context and enabling cross-searches. By bringing together experts from across museology, the study of the material ancient world and digital humanities disciplines, this project will develop best practice in easy, low cost routes for museums lacking the digital experience and expertise to access and implement digital solutions.
The projects focuses on the Classical World of Archaeology and will lead to an openly-accessible digital exhibition to accompany a physical exhibition, Being an Islander: Art and Identity of the large Mediterranean Islands, that will be held at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 2020/21. The majority of the outputs of this project are aimed at public consumption on a large scale, with Fitzwilliam Museum exhibitions regularly reaching around 90,000 people attending. This exhibition will potentially tour to other venues following its close in Cambridge. This project will create a wide array of digital outputs that can be used to publicise the project. These include:

1) A set of 3 social media friendly films, set in each of the locations chosen for the project (all extremely photogenic - the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Getty and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. These films can be disseminated in various formats and on a wide variety of platforms. All will be mobile friendly and have subtitles for accessibility.
2) A web presence from day one of the project, hosted on the Fitzwilliam Museum's servers with an associated blog that will have scheduled and curated content that documents the research progress
3) A strong social media presence (the majority of the core staff of the network proposed have strong social media presence) generated by the team and through liaison with institutional communications teams (for example Cambridge University has over 400,000 followers on Twitter and 2.1 million on Facebook.)
4) A series of technical articles that will document how to implement the methods that are studied during the network's workshops, for example Linked Open Data modelling or 3D photogrammetric data processing
5) Through major conference presentations and journal publications (which will be funded as in-kind contributions by the PI and Co-Is institutions)
Through developing a collaborative, cross-disciplinary and international network that aims to exploit the research potential of new digital tools, we are responding to the AHRC's heritage strategic priority area strategy.

Planned Impact

This research network will interact and engage with a variety of key audiences in the cultural heritage ecosystem, including museums (curators, exhibition staff, gallery interpretation), academic communities of practice, museum visitors and digital consumers via the wide array of different dissemination methods that the project will utilise.
This project will enable the public and the academics working on the network to collaboratively co-produce knowledge, digital tools and ultimately a virtual arm of a physical exhibition. This project will provide a digital exemplar for reproduction by other museums, using the tools and methods that are employed to meet the network's aims.
1. Cultural heritage sector
This project will consolidate, build and extend collaborations, partnerships and impact in trans-Atlantic Classical and Museological research. Using a strong and cohesive, but ultimately informal, network that came about from the National Endowment for the Humanities funded Linked Ancient World Data Institute, the network team will invite museum professionals, classicists and technologists to a series of three interactive and facilitated workshops to share curatorial expertise, co-develop best practice, and support each other and provide tools for other museums to make their collections more accessible in the digital arena.
2. The public
The public demonstrated an appetite for Classical World material in its many forms. The BBC has a strong array of Classical presenters including Professor Michael Scott and Professor Mary Beard and the British Museum has held successful Classical World exhibitions such as Pompeii in recent years. Audience research at the Fitzwilliam Museum has shown that people want to see exhibitions on this area of archaeology in Cambridge and worldwide. This networked project will enable them to both consume Classical World content in gallery and in the digital world and have the opportunity for more active participation, rather than more traditional passive engagement. Through opening up connections between artefacts, geography and chronology and making these visible online, the museums will allow much wider audiences access to the collections.
3. Students
This network's tools will potentially enable a new way of bringing Classics and Museology into the lecture hall, using new and innovative techniques ranging from 3D to crowdsourcing to enriched resources via Linked Open Data. This will ensure that students benefit from an enriched learning experience and are exposed to latest developments in digital humanities that they can apply in their future careers.
4. Businesses in the creative industries sector
Through using cross-disciplinary networking and research to advance our understanding of how audiences might respond to - and be able to engage with - collections using linked open data, this project will provide opportunities for businesses in there creative industries sector to target cultural heritage organisations to provide services that will meet the audience needs and expectations discovered during this project.
5. Funders of arts and humanities research and the cultural heritage sector
Funders are increasingly being asked to justify evidence the impact of funding. This project will develop new ways of actively engaging audiences in cultural heritage and provide new routes for businesses to respond to digital challenges that can be replicated in future projects.

Publications

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