Apr 06

Landscape and DPH

Digital Public History has allowed so many different collaborations between technology and history.  For example, with the advent of smart phones and portable technology, museums and public history projects can create applications to enhance the visitor experience.  They can create interactive exhibits with the technologies available.  A personal example of this is from the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.  I went to visit the art museum and they had borrowable iPods and headphones sets that visitors could take and enhance their visit.  There was no sound in the galleries, but if you had the iPod and headphones, you were able to listen to commentary from the curators on different pieces or you were able to listen to a video that would play on the wall silently.  It enhanced the individual experience, but it also kept the galleries very quiet for others to be able to enjoy the artwork without distraction.

Other techniques including building applications that are downloadable by individuals on their own pieces of technology, such as downloading an app on my iPhone.  I would download the app either before I arrived at the museum or shortly thereafter, and use the app as I walked through the exhibit.  Museum Victoria did just that in its World War I: Impact and Aftermath exhibit.  They created an interactive app/exhibition experience to complement each other.  You were able to walk through the exhibit without the technology, but if you had the technology, your world was opened to include a specific character you followed through the war, sounds that you wouldn’t hear otherwise, and you got more in-depth information by using the app.  They were able to do this using bluetooth beacons throughout the exhibition to help tell the stories as you walked through.  The beacon would “ping” your phone, and it would open up a new section based on your location.  That app had minimal information outside the museum, but once inside, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

Cleveland Historical created a “walking tour” app that integrated oral history with location.  They wanted to heighten the senses.  They found it to be more powerful to see a location while they were hearing a story about a location or experience.  It better places the listener in a state of mind similar to the storyteller.

Building Histories of the National Mall created a walking guide to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  It was meant to show how much history has happened in that location that not everybody knows about.  Yes, everybody knows about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and that the President is inaugurated on the Capitol steps every four years in January, but what else happened on that Mall?  What did it look like 150 years ago?  Using geolocation technologies with application technologies, creating an app that shows you those things in real time while you’re standing in a specific spot is possible.

Complexities of digital public history that is location-based include the necessity of being in that physical location to get the full impact of the experience, technological bugs and errors, technological understanding (including a strong tech team to build and fix the app), and user-friendliness.  If an app is difficult or confusing to use, the general public is less likely to use it, much like any website that a DPH project chooses to use.  The same considerations need to be made for technology bugs and understanding as with websites, just in a different language.  Being in a physical location can be a drawback for users who just want to explore from the comfort of their own couch, especially if the application requires you to be standing in a specific spot to get specific information, like with the Museum Victoria.

DPH projects are now able to use technologies to their benefit, increasing visitor numbers while also increasing visitor engagement.  Technology has allowed DPH projects to reach out to the public instead of staying in their building with their artifacts and histories.  The collaboration with the public becomes much greater as the technologies increase.  Through social media and websites, museums and projects are able to interact with individuals throughout the world.  Museums and projects are able to add more history to their websites and social media profiles than can ever possibly be displayed in analog exhibits.  It opens up their museums and projects to a whole new type of visitor, not just the visitor that stumbled upon them as they were exploring a city.  As technology continues to grow, so will the conversation between institution and visitor.

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