The Benefits of Museum Materials’ Digitalization


On March 27, 2014, I had the opportunity to participate in an event’s Reception meeting at Holocaust Museum Houston(HMH). Upon visit, I was amazed by their digitalized collection exhibit and online archival documents. Their collections were displayed in the self-guide iPad, and background stories of this event “The Rescuers” were live on the TV screen hanging over the wall. This experience inspired me to set my thesis on museum in digital age, to explore the current form of museum exhibition and collection that has adopted technology.

I brought my question of what factors driving HMH vastly embracing digitalization to one of our guides, Manuel, and his response was out of my expectation. Without stating “we are doing this to adjust the 21 century of technology”, he remarked that it is because of the government and funding agencies requested HMH to achieve a wider public connection by “putting everything online”, and therefore it will facilitate circulation by displaying “everything we got on our website so the members can see it, show it to their friends, share it on their social media.”

The tension exists in the fact that not everyone is in favor of this transformation. Some administrators in the museum argue that the materiality of collections is being torn apart as photos, graphs, videos, films are taking the lead and substituting the museum’s physical asset. The purpose of the thesis is to illustrate the benefits of combining museum’s historical relics with digitalization, listing five ways applied by museums to adjust the modern age of technology. It will shed the light on the fact that digitalization approach will not endanger the existence of assets of the past.

A case study of a specific museum can serve better to analyze the topic of this thesis that avoids generalizing of the topic and oversizing of the research paper. One primary case of research is Winterthur Museum. When Henry Du Pont founded Winterthur Museum in 1951, his focus was on creating an outstanding naturalistic, horticultural garden and a dairy barn farm. the look of loveWith the establishment of Art Conservation Program between Winterthur Museum and University of Delaware in 1974, its library earned a huge popularity which in turn brought an increasing demand for digitized manuscripts, visual and audio materials. In The Look of Love, its last winter’s Jeweled portraits of the eye of the lover, Winterthur Museum applied iPad app as the self-tour guide, free distributed to all visitors to enable them tap, click and see the brooches, rings up-close. Its current Downton Abbey, exhibiting the costumes worn in the British TV show Downton Abbey, downton-abbey-winterthurencompasses Carnival Film footage, Television clips and photos, all play right in the exhibition hall. Though there are more examples and better analysis needed, they showcased the proper deployment of digital media will not interfere the unique functionality or sacrifice the original form of each exhibited items.

The Five approaches up to this stage of my understanding are:

Using Social Media to open the personal dialogue with visitors;

Blog: breaking down the walls of inaccessibility;

Emerging cultural differences to attract oversee tourists;

Mobilizing visit;

Digital Museum creating augmented experience: “Edutainment”.

To enrich the arguments, further researches need to be incorporated into illustrating the 5 approaches mentioned above.

The first draft will be submitted on April 29 and the final thesis will be completed on May 13th.


2 thoughts on “The Benefits of Museum Materials’ Digitalization”

  1. I really like this project! What are the specific questions you’re trying to explore/answer? I think you’ll have a wealth of information at your hands, as use of digital media is rapidly increasing in museums, and there’s a great deal of literature on the subject. There’s been a lot of positive feedback for the use of these electronics and digital media, so I’m interested to see what you come up with!

  2. Your project sounds really interesting and reminded me of lots of discussions I’ve had with friends in the Winterthur Program about museum education and public engagement–and what the role of curators are in those processes.

    Since the goal of museums is both to preserve and to get patrons to engage with their holdings, digitization certainly offers new and more varied opportunities to do so, even (perhaps at times detrimentally) eliminating the necessity of actually being geographically in the same place as the objects one is observing. You may have already heard about the University of Virginia Art Museum’s initiative from a few years ago to make some objects in their collection available in 3D (via an iPad app), but I thought it might be of interest if you hadn’t:

    Finally, I’d second Gab’s query–it sounds like this is part of a bigger project, but for the digital essay, what are your current research questions, and what is the primary format you see this smaller project taking?

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