Thinking Digitally in the Museum

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on August 15, 2010

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Ross Parry, ed., Museums in a Digital Age (New York: Routledge, 2009), 496 pages, ISBN: 9780415402620, $52.95.

Reviewed by Craig Saper, Texts and Technology Doctoral Program and Department of English, University of Central Florida; posted 5 August 2010.

This useful collection of previously published essays appears in a series of course readers in museum studies edited by Simon Knell. The goal of this particular anthology is to illuminate the impact of digital media on museum exhibitions and on the conserving of digital artifacts in museums. Knell’s explanation of the general goals of the series ends with a citation from Michel Foucault as a guide to each volume’s efforts to update museum studies curricula. With that directive, it is inevitable that the series will have to navigate between the most mundane practical concerns, in this case how to run a museum’s digital collections and exhibitions, and more theoretical issues involving the implications of conserving an ephemeral digital heritage and putting exhibitions online. The two overlapping conflicts, or contradictions, of museum studies (i.e., practical versus theoretical and the virtual versus actual objects) challenge Museums in a Digital Age to get these concerns to address each other or at least to speak the same language.

Ross Parry, who edited the anthology, organizes the chapters into seven sections (prefaced by his useful introductions) that loosely correspond to the history and management of information, the real and virtual spaces of exhibitions, access and usability, interpretive and educational services, the status of museum artifacts (including digital), sustainability and technical production issues, and speculations on the future of museums. That organization certainly fits neatly with courses in museum studies, but, in following Parry’s description of the volume as a collage, one might also cross-index the chapters into four categories: history of practices, new gadgets and practices, usability of technological resources, and appealing to a wider (and different) audience. . .

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