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VCU Archaeology

Virtual Curation and International Museum Day: Making Connections with Digital Collections

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Today, May 18, 2014, is International Museum Day, sponsored by the International Council of Museums.  The theme this year is Museum Collections Make Connections. There are four suggested sub-themes on the 2014 organizational page:

  • Design a visit tour. This theme reminds that an exhibition is made around museum items: the museum interprets the historic and scientific connections between these objects thanks to a visit tour designed to “tell a story”.
  • An intergenerational link. Museums keep the relationship between a community and its history alive. They are spaces for dialogue between generations.
  • Displaying heritage in a modern way. Museums have quickly been able to seize the communication and mediation opportunities offered by new media and have broken away from the old-fashion image they once had.
  • Collaboration between museum institutions or with other organization. Sharing collections as well as experience among museums is a good way to improve comprehension and emphasize intercultural exchanges. Partnerships with other structures, cultural or not, can also contribute to the museum’s mission.

The efforts and goals of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, including at our sister site, the Virtual Curation Museum, fit well particularly with the second two themes–although we do allow people to interact virtually with artifacts that allows people to tell their own stories, and potentially encourage a dialogue.

Our virtual curation of artifacts and ecofacts from throughout the region, and our work with regional museums and heritage locations intertwine the display of heritage in a modern way–animated and manipulable digital models, as well as printed replicas of actual artifacts–that we obtain through collaboration with these places of heritage. We have developed a strong partnership with Jamestown Rediscovery, for example, that includes creating digital models of their objects that can be animated for museum displays or the internet, and replicated in physical form for use in public programs.

Mark Summers of Jamestown Rediscovery uses a printed and painted replica of a butchered dog mandible from the Starving Time in public interpretations. Courtesy of Jamestown Rediscovery.

Mark Summers of Jamestown Rediscovery uses a printed and painted replica of a butchered dog mandible from the Starving Time in public interpretations. Image courtesy of Jamestown Rediscovery.

This past week I traveled with intern John Bush to scan some additional objects from George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We scanned a number of items, including this trunk plate etched with George Washington’s signature.

Trunk plate with George Washington's signature.

Trunk plate with George Washington’s signature.

At the end of last week, I also traveled to meet with DC Archaeologists Dr. Ruth Troccoli and Charde Reid to provide them with painted and unpainted replicas of artifacts associated with the Battle of Bladensburg, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary this fall.  We scanned a number of objects from this War of 1812 battle so that they can be shared among different venues in Maryland and Washington, D.C., including an exhibit in the DC Public Library. A sample animation by past Intern Ashley Perry can be seen here. Current intern Becki Bowman painted the printed replicas I provided to the DC archaeologists.

Top: Becki Bowman, painting artifacts.  Bottom: Ruth Trocolli with painted artifacts.

Top: Becki Bowman, painting artifacts.
Bottom: Ruth Trocolli with painted artifacts.

Meanwhile, at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, Virginia Commonwealth University alumni Lauren Volkers and Vivian Hite, who are interns at Ferry Farm this summer, have been using printed and scanned artifacts from this site in their public programs.

Lauren Volkers with young visitors.

Lauren Volkers with young visitors.

Vivian Hite demonstrates how a smoking pipe would have been used.

Vivian Hite demonstrates how a smoking pipe would have been used.

Over the next year, we will further make connections with collections, especially as we work to help develop a new archaeology exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Natural History that will highlight their collections, as well as multiple heritage locations throughout the region and from across the world.

An antelope femoral head from Africa carved with a human face. From the collections of the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

An antelope femoral head from Africa carved with a human face. From the collections of the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

 

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