Week 11. Podcasts, labels and e-tangibles

Well, its certainly been a busy week on the Digital Heritage course. We’ve been treated to no less than three seminars and two guest speakers. On Tuesday, Sally Olding from The Whitworth Art Gallery described how podcasting has been used in a recent exhibition, while on Wednesday Dr Ross Parry from the University of Leicester shared his recent research.

Now I have to admit that before Tuesday my knowledge about podcasting was rather limited. What I did know was that Adam and Joe’s BBC6 Music podcast makes the commute into university slightly more bearable. However, Sally Olding explained exactly what they are and how they’re created, distributed and ‘caught’ and the software that’s required. She then went on to describe how The Whitworth Art Gallery has used podcasting as part of the recent Blake’s Shadow exhibition. Blake TV features a series of video and audio interviews with contemporary creatives who have been influenced by Blake’s artistic legacy in some way. The exhibition is given a presence beyond the context of the gallery, has the potential to reach a wider audience and has increased exposure. They are on target to achieve over 1000 downloads and the podcasts can be downloaded here.

On Wednesday, Dr Ross Parry, Lecturer in Museums and New Media at the University of Leicester’s Department of Museum Studies (and Kostas’ former PhD supervisor) chaired a seminar with the Digital Heritage students titled ‘Narrative, Labelling and Authorship in the New Gallery Environment’. We were asked to consider who the author is within a museum and what labels represent culturally, pedagogically and curatorially. We also debated the role of narrative in a museum and pondered the question of there ever being a completely narrative-free exhibition. Indeed, is it even possible? Are we culturally conditioned to expect narrative? Do we need to frame our experiences within a narrative context in order to make sense of them?

Dr Parry went on to explain how the LIVE!Labels project addressed some of these issues, as well as traditions of labelling in cultural institutions and recent technological developments. LIVE!Labels can be updated with new content whenever and wherever and bring some of the more recent online museum techniques into the onsite museum. I found it interesting that during their trial they were used differently by two institutions. The National Space Centre updated them daily with information about orbiting objects while the New Walk Museum updated them once and used them to support traditional text panels.

Dr Parry’s recent book, Recoding the Museum: Digital Heritage and the Technologies of Change, has proved fascinating reading for Digital Heritage students. In fact, the library’s only copy is rarely on the shelves and is often reserved (any chance of some more copies Kostas?) Dr Parry’s second seminar of the day, ‘Resolving the Museum/Computer Disconnect’ addressed many of the issues in his book. There has been a history of incompatibility between museums and computer technology, fuelled by an anxiety of technology led innovation, that has prolonged the realisation of many plans for digitisation in museums. However, museums are inherently adaptive spaces which have been accommodating new display technologies and information organisation techniques for centuries. The use of digital media within the online and onsite museum can be seen in this context, and the incompatibility of the last forty or so years will evolve into a history of compatibility in the twenty first century museum.