Digital Curation and the New Museum

I’m Mitch Ogden—a co-director/co-producer of Harvey and a professor of digital humanities at UW–Stout. I’m chiming in during the winter break as our students are either recovering from a strenuous semester or neck-deep in a compressed, 3-week winter term class.

One feature of the field of digital humanities that I think of very often is the notion of curation. Curation used to be an activity for a select few—a kind of cultural elite located in the most traditional cultural institutions, primarily museums and art galleries.

But the explosion of digital tools, web publishing, and maker-culture have created an environment that democratizes curation. Recently, the Wall Street Journal took notice of the innovative embrace of curatorial crowdsourcing at art museums across the country and declared that “Everybody’s an Art Curator.”

That curatorial energy drives the Harvey project. Our digital humanities students are discovering countless historical treasures—little bits of microhistory—that capture the nuanced spirit of a building and a century of events, occupants, and artifacts. The art and animation students fashion these treasures into attractive digital forms. Together—as game designers and digital curators—they are finding ways to make that content rich, meaningful, and layered.

For example, a scrapbook of news clippings and other ephemera has been curated into Harvey, based on several scrapbooks that Minnie Becker—who served as a secretary to the president for more than 40 years—curated herself. In Harvey, Minnie is present as an interpretative guide and users can engage her in dialogue to better understand the narrative pastiche.

Interpretative labels (as you see above in the 1950s textile room) are a standard of traditional curation. In Harvey these labels are just one layer of information that is enhanced as objects are built into mini-games and interactive demonstrations that activate the content. In the textile room, you’ll be able to see the vintage fadeometer (below)—used in textile laboratories to observe the effects of extended UV exposure on fabric—in action, deepening the user’s understanding of what students did in this space 60 years ago.

Harvey is not just something to play. And it is not just a space to explore. We are creating a new kind of space—a remediation (Bolter and Grusin‘s term) of many different media at once. A serious game. An interactive archive. A new media museum.