'Digitised collections and the social museum: the (re)use of images of objects in the collections of the Science Museum Group'

Lead Research Organisation: University of London
Department Name: School of Advanced Study


The proposed research will focus on one particular kind of digital engagement, albeit a complex and multifaceted one: engagement through images. Two main sources of data will be used: photographs taken by visitors to the Science Museum Group (SMG) which are shared online; and digitised images made available online as part of the One Collection project and similarly shared. Visitor-generated photographs, arising from an in-gallery experience, will be compared with the ways in which users interact with images in the museum's online collections, analysing whether different kinds of digital engagement occur in solely digital spaces and contexts. The research will explore the factors that influence which objects visitors choose to photograph and which images they select from online collections; the forums within which these photographs and images are shared; the stories that people associate with the images (and the language that they use to tell those stories); and the afterlife of the images beyond first publication.

The project is not limited to a single collection within the SMG, but rather is concerned with the Group's collections in their entirety, in keeping with the aims of One Collection. The SMG's collections are uniquely suitable for this research, as user engagement with individual objects is more likely to be filtered through personal connection/reminiscence than would be the case for the majority of memory institutions. Many of the objects on display relate to visitors' own lived experiences, or to those of an older family member ('I used to have one of those'). These personal relationships and stories will be key to exploring digital engagement.


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