On June 3 2011 CoDA organized the 2011 MCN CAL SIG annual meeting titled “Places, Collections, and Digital Narratives: Towards a Stronger Collaboration between Museums and Cultural Heritage”.
The event, coordinated by Cinzia Perlingieri Director of Research at CoDA and Marla Misunas Collections Information Manager at SFMoMA, brought together UC archaeologists and MCN technologists in a way that has never been done before in the California SIG.
The MCN meeting started off the morning with the theme of collaboration, with focus on the mutual interests in the worlds of art, archaeology, cultural heritage and museums. Marla Misunas began with a brief history of the MCN, pointing out that while museums have been actively involved in the development of computerized data management for decades, the MCN is always interested in new inspiration and ideas to feed programs and conversations.
Following Marla’s thoughts, Cinzia Perlingieri expanded the discussion into potentials for the future, with focus on how co-operative projects between cultural heritage institutions and academics help balance the needs of management with a drive for creativity. After these opening statements, the presentations went on to discuss case studies and applications for digital asset management and access.
Sue Grinols described her recent collaborative work on a Kress foundation-funded project between the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) and Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) and demonstrated the exciting new potentials of imaging technology in a museum setting. This project involved the use of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to objects in the new FAMSF collection, which has allowed both conservators and visitors detailed, up-close views of the intricacy and complexity of an object’s surface decorations. For example, Sue described a recent Legion of Honor Japanesque exhibit in which a movie, showing the detailed embossing of a Japanese wood print, was displayed side by side with the original work. She found that visitors loved the experience of peering closely at the original print in search of the magnified detail displayed digitally. This case study shows the high potential of imaging technology for use in public outreach.
Next, Grace Chuang and Elizabeth Minor (with the help of Trisha Roberts in absentia) reported on the year-long Presidio Digital Archaeological Archive (DAA) project, which was sponsored by the Presidio Trust in co-operation with the Center for Digital Archaeology and UC Berkeley Anthropology. The purpose of the DAA was to develop an integrated approach for the digital management of archaeological collections. Grace and Elizabeth discussed the lessons learned from digitally archiving over 8,500 objects from a single Presidio Trust collection and the trials of developing an efficient workflow for object photography, cataloging and associated documents scanning, all of which aimed to digitally represent the archaeological context of excavation.
Michael Ashley then discussed the potential of new data management systems, namely Codifi, which transforms data representation from “monographs to multigraphs.” This database framework, soon to be an iPad-ready application, relates the full scope of archaeological context by modeling all data in the four categories of Things, Places, Media and People, which are interconnected through Events. Codifi was first conceptualized through the Last House on the Hill Project of Ruth Tringham, which recognized the need for a true integration of data that preserves the full breadth of information without losing the depth of understanding.
Closing out the morning session, the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (PAHMA) hosted the MCN group for a gallery tour of their exhibit, Conservator’s Art: Preserving Egypt’s Past. PAHMA conservator Jane Williams spoke about the conservation process and challenges of the display’s major pieces. UC Berkeley Near Eastern Studies graduate student Elizabeth Minor demonstrated the role of available online database resources for the Egyptological research and the public education aspects of the exhibit.
Carla Schroer of CHI followed the museum visit with a short presentation on the PAHMA’s RTI project, a pilot endeavor that digitally remediates selections from the Hearst-Reisner collections to better serve the academic research community.
The afternoon discussion began with a lively and productive open forum. Continuing the ideas of co-operation in the diverse world of museums, the conversation flowed naturally and turned to the idea of “history” in both art and cultural heritage institutions and the appeal that the history (whatever it may mean to the individual viewer) brings to a museum collection. Ruth Tringham emphasized that history can take place on any scale, but that history always has greater meaning when there are more people (both public and research-oriented) to remember it.
This discussion provided a natural segue into Ruth Tringham’s presentation on Microhistories, the idea that history can be pulled out of fragments. Individual stories and memories, built from material, places, people and media, contribute just as importantly to history as those written into official records. Ruth supports this with the fact that heritage museums do not expect the public’s historical interest to be drawn solely from the physical objects. Rather, the museum must provide individual stories and context from memories that are not simply anecdotal, but enrich the public’s understanding of heritage and history.
Connor Rowe then presented a dispatch from Europe prepared in collaboration with Elena Toffalori and Erica Pallo, which described the exciting new world of virtual reality applications and their current use in the cultural tourism institutions in Europe. Connor touched on the several examples of virtual reconstructions. Particularly interesting was Teramo, Italy, the first city in Europe dedicated to virtual cultural heritage. Teramo has been virtually reconstructed through Second Life and has a smartphone application that allows the user to navigate Teramo through an archaeologically recontexutalized urban trail. Ultimately, this new digital medium of virtual reality provides a valuable pathway to generate public interest and access to museum collections.
Ruth Tringham synthesized many of the day’s ideas by re-emphasizing the need for stronger collaboration between the diverse array of institutions concerned with collections. We need to work together in setting discourse and generating practices for our many mutual concerns. Among them, are what to do with our physical collections, digital narratives, augmented realities and the direction of museum technology, and public outreach outside the museums.
Overall, the MCN conference was a great pleasure and success and the CODA team looks forward to a future of innovation in both ideas and programs that we can share and exchange with the museum world. Both MCN and CoDA thank the Archaeological Research Facility for kindly hosting the event.