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Fig.1. Bristol Fighter at the Imperial Museum
When I took a picture using my iPad a member of the museum staff politely told me that ‘the curator asked that people did not take pictures’ (and that the curator was in part to blame as he hadn’t wanted the signage saying ‘don’t take pictures’ too prominent) – curator as stage manager and executive producer of a collection of themed objects. The term ‘object’ itself embracing stills, artefacts, video-clips and activities. You curate stuff in a space and set parameters so that an audience of visitors can get their head around what, in effect, has come the curator’s mind.
In the bizarre ways that these things happen I recall, age six at most, creating a fossil museum with ammonites found in the low rocky cliffs of Beadnell, Northumberland.
I was a curator, I brought together a themed collection of rocks, set them out in a room and invited people in – no doubt in the back of my mind imagining the glass cabinets and displays in the Hancock Museum, Newcastle.
Ian McGreggor of the British Museum with his History of the World in 100 objects is a curator – far more so than an amateur’s eclectic collection of e–stuff. Or am I being a 20th century snob? Craving for academic elitism that is fast vanishing down the plug–hole as the digtal ocean and equally digital–cloud washes and blows over everything? I search that externalised part of my own mind, an extensive blog 13 years in the writing, for what I’ve said or stumbled upon before regarding ‘curation’ and find three entries, one prompted by my intention to attend this session in Bath and feeding off a visit to the De le Warr, Bexhill and the rest from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ in which he lists curation as something universities will need to do. On Chapter 12 he has this list on publishing as:
- Accepted practice
- Academic respectability
- Reward and tenure
I wonder if this following quote gives a sense of Martin Weller‘s comprehension of the term ‘curation’ as used in a Web 2.0 context:
‘If Boyer’s four main scholarly functions were research, application, integration and teaching, then I would propose that those of the digital scholar are engagement, experimentation, reflection and sharing’. Weller (2011).
On a quest to become ‘digital scholars’ or ‘thought leaders’ we should, to change one word –engage, experiment, reflect and curate’? The word, used in this, come to think of it, ought also to include ‘moderate’, even to ‘chair’ or ‘host’.
In 2002 Gilly Salmon, then a lecturer at the Open University Business School, tried to coin the terms e–tivity and e–moderator.
Perhaps then, as these things go, the digital community have not picked up on these terms – instead they have hijacked ‘curation’. We are going through a rich phase of redefining and inventing words and understandably they result in carnage and debate. Academics are guilty I feel of sometimes wanting to be the first to coin a word or use a new phrase or word in a new way because citation will mean that they are then quoted for every more. This happens in academic publishing and study, unfortunately ‘curation’ can leave you wondering about the source. Is ‘jumbling together’ the content of others from multiple sources even more questionable than turning to self–monitored wikis such as wikipedia?
Weller also says:
‘If the intention is to encourage engagement then low-quality routes may be more fruitful than seeking to produce professional broadcast material’. Weller (2011) and ‘Low quality individual items because of their obvious ease of production, can be seen as an invitation to participate’. Weller (2011)
Is curation a dirty word? Is curated content reliable? What does it mean in the corporate world?
Krotovski, A (2012) The Digital Human. BBC Radio 4 (last accessed 22 October 2012)
McGreggor, I (2011) The History of the World in 100 Objects –http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/british-museum-objects/ + Neil McGreggor
Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: the key to active only learning. Sterling, VA : Stylus Publishing Inc. ISSN 0 7494 3686 7
Salmon, G (2002) e-moderation
Stodd, J (2012) https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/creating-and-sustaining-high-performance-learning-cultures/
Sullivan, A (2000-2012) The Daily Beast
Weller, M (2011) The Digital Human. More from Martin Weller in his blog: http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/Wijekumar, K. J., Meyer, B. J. F., Wagoner, D., & Ferguson, L. (2006). Technology affordances: The “real story” in research with K-12 and undergraduate learners. British Journal of Educational Technology, 37(2), 191-209.
Fig.1. CityStories for mobile
City Stories are files of content, like popdcasts with text and audio, with images and video, linked to a map that spots each ‘talk’ and tracks your position.
Fig.2. Where the walking starts and ends
Reading about this online and taking a look is one thing. Going to London to walk the talk is another experience entirely. The immediate and obvious point is the context. You aren’t looking or listening to this content at a desk at home, but on the move. I get my bearings at a Patisiere Valerie in Holborn then head down the road to Queen’s Square and a hub of hospitals that have been growing up here for centuries.
Fig.3. Where’s the value in information that already exists?
There’s no longer any excuse to get lost in London? And not more call for a GPS tracker?
Fig. 4. Where am I?
I put on headphones and become another pedestrian lost to the world, though probably taking more interest in my local surroundings than most.
Fig.5. Queen Square Gardens
I start in Queen Square Gardens. I find the audio guide somewhat eclectic though. It is sponsored by the Wellcome Foundation and has a medical theme, but the narrator sweaps up random historical tidbits from far and wide – we go from the first houses and first hospital in the square, with quotes from letters or diaries and then it is mentioned that a Zeplin dropped a bomb in the square during the First World War and that people sheltered below the square in a shelter during the Second.
Fig. 6 Where a Zepllin dropped its bomb on 8th September 1915
It harmed no one, though it left its mark.
And this commenced my search for this plaque to the Zeplin bomb, which I finally located, under dust and leaves and barely legible having by now found so much more that I wanted information on that this audio guide didn’t provide. Of the 32 garden benches in the square only one does not have a dedication on it: most are to residents, some I would understand were treated in one of the several hospitals around the square, as well as memorials to former consultants, doctors and nurses. Poignantly, one to a person mudered in the London bombings.
Fig.7. One of the more poignant of some 28+ plaques commemorating those with a connection to the square – this is where ‘pinned’ augmented media can tell a story.
These are many interesting human stories here, non of which are explored.
Fig.8. Another local resident remembered
Such this memorial to a cat, as well as assorted other memorials, few of which explain themselves and none of which are mentioned in this audio tour.
It’s as if the guide was written without actually standing in the square, looking around and as a radio broadcaster would do, give some colour and background to what you can see as you turn on the spot, or follow the path around the square. To miss something out is to say something, just as it says something to put it in.
My interest and disappointment here is that I thought there would be a set of QR codes around a trial of 3 miles and at each one I’d call up the link to information that would, if I looked around me, would inform me of what I was seeing and what is going on behind the scenes. It could offer a soundscape of a different era. Memorable insights. Something to encourage me to start a journey, to want to find out more. I didn’t. I expected more on the Great Ormond Street Chidlren’s hospital but got less than I’d get from a quick Google to Wikipedia or YouTube. It did take me to Thomas Corram’s Foundling Hospital
Fig. 9. Thomas Corram’s Founding Hospital Museum
The opportunity to create highly relevant, engaging, memorable, award-winning mobile learning exists. The above was created using the open software from WordPress. The research needs to go beyond the obvious, beyond the everyday guidebook or wikipedia. You need to knock on a few doors, get some local colour, hear from people who live in the square … or lived in the square. And if you want to do a ‘drama reconstruction’ then get the investment for a proper soundscape, actor(s) and script. Leaving questions unanswered is fine – it is easier enough to research further.
Most fundamentally, who is your audience for this?
There are three kinds of people in this part of London: UCL students, patients and visitors to the many hospitals and those working in the hospitals and universities. Many will have a smartphone. IF they know what a QR code is then I’d expected to see this placed in opportune spots like miniature versions of those blue plaques you find on houses.
Fig. 9 Plaques today, engraved QR codes of NFCs tomorrow?
Isn’t Google running something with Google Maps where you can pin content, audio and video, to a GPS location?
One paper, a review of the state of the art of augmented mobile platforms and uses in museums and collections and I find a treasure trove of examples – quite a few links failed, but a little detective work and I found links to some of the wonderous Apps that are available for museum and gallery visitors even in this case from the Wellcome Foundation, an augmented ‘City Walk’ from the Medical History of London. I believe creating content for platforms such as these is straightforward too, so putting the creation process into the hands of curators and visitors, rather than external agencies. What does Google Gain? Conquest of the cyberworld.
This is key to what I have in mind: use your own device, decide how you want to go around a show.
Imagine a room in which students pick an item from a museum then do this with it on their screens. You have their attention. How do they then take it and create a string of memories that take them through assignments and beyond?
Imagine downloading ahead of a visit the audio tour for a special show? My visit to the Royal Academy to see the Van Gogh letters had my mother as the audio tour – I wish I’d recorded it. Where we now have ONE voice and script very soon there will be many – then you can choose who you want as your guide.
And then imagine an audiotour pinned to locations as you walk around a town, showing you before and after vistas, telling you stories or offering an alternative soundscape. Not if your in a hurry. And if on your daily commute you’ll turn yourself into an expert and need to upload your own research and insights. Here the ‘Blood, guts and babies’ medical tour from the Wellcome Foundation.
And at the risk of getting hit by the next best, take your eyes of the footpath and take a augmented view not just of a shop or cafe, but illustrated history … London Blitz would be scary, to see a motorbike currier heading towards a bomb crater.
First the Royal Academy, meeting with Julian Stodd author of ‘Exploring the World of Social Learning’ having made the connection on Linkedin. Read the book, met the author and now we pick over each other’s brains – how we learn is a mutual fascination.
A second viewing of ‘Bronzes’, this time with a drawing pen and pad of cartridge paper – photography not permitted. I wanted to see if my hand was ‘in’ or ‘off’. Most of my time was spent circling the decapitated body of Medusa.
On then to the Wellcome Foundation. In this instance I’d taken one snap on the iPad and was approached and politely advised that photography was not allowed. A guide book for £1 will serve as a suitable aide memoire.
Two days ago I was listening to Aleks Krotoski on ‘The Digital Brain’ on BBC Radio 4 and blogged about the series which by serendipty had me taking an interest in this exhibition, not least because I wanted to take a second look at a screenplay I wrote ‘The Contents of My Mind’ that tells the fictional story of how a digital record of a lifetime of memories are offered to a coma victim. So it was with considerable surprise when I overheard her familiar voice and found she was interviewing the museum’s curator – unedited then I got a good deal of the content for a future show.
Upstairs I watched an operation to remove a cancerous growth recorded in real-time from the surgeon’s point of view, then Project 22 in which a woman photographs everything that she eats as she eats it for one year and one day – age 22. Once again fascinating. A selective record of a year. Can a record of an entire be undertaken with some degree of necessary selection? Or could a software algorithm sort it all out for you if a memory enhancing device records everything that you do and experience.
Other than the £1 guide, unusually, I have not come away with bags of books though I would recommend the Blackwells bookstore at the Wellcome Foundation for bizarre stocking fillers – I Liked the ‘blood bath’ – blood-like bathsalts offered in a surgical drip bag, or highlighter pens as syringes.
I’ll return next week – in at Victoria, back and forth and few stops each way on the Victoria Line – couldn’t be easier. Lunch at the Wellcome Foundation is a find too. A sweet potatoe salad for £3 beats all prices outside the main doors.