Visions of the Past

I’m pleased to introduce David Carmichael, one of the project’s new Collection Assistants. Here, Dave takes a look at the project through fresh eyes, and reminds us all why we’re undertaking Collections in the Landscape…

It was with feelings of trepidation and excitement that I entered the green doors of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery to begin my first day of work as Collection Assistant. Trepidation, because I was aware of the mammoth task (forgive the pun!) which lay ahead of us in transforming the museum upper gallery into a permanent exhibition fit for a 21st century audience and, perhaps, beyond. Excitement, because the Buxton Museum Collection is a vast melting pot of archaeology, culture, art, history, geology, biology, the ‘just plain weird’ and plenty of, as yet, undiscovered facts and revelations, with which I was keen to get to grips.

There is something for everyone in this amazing collection: from prehistoric mammoth jawbones and Peak District hill-tribe weapons of war, to the living biology of the landscape, cocooned in the brachiopods, that inhabited the sea which covered the Peak District millions upon millions of years ago. Or, if archaeology and history are not your thing, the beautifully rendered artworks of local painters and sculptors, capturing the monumental and immeasurable rawness of the Derbyshire and Peak District landscape are on regular display.

Dave - hard at work already!

Dave – hard at work already!

Collections in the Landscape is the overall name of the project we are undertaking and my first task is to research and identify objects of interest relating to the ancient Iron Age and Roman Fort of Melandra; situated just above Glossop. These objects of interest will, in turn, be used to plan a walking trail to, and around, Melandra, that can be accessed as a mobile phone app or online.  And, so it was that as I opened my first acid-free archive box and carefully delved into its contents; hundreds of uncategorised pieces of Roman Grey-ware pottery sherds, that trepidation turned to exhilaration as I realised that we were on a journey. A journey through history and time that will be realised, but not end, in 2017.  Who could fail to be inspired?

David Carmichael

A Pause for thought

The Stage 1 development of Collections in a Landscape is drawing to a close, and as we beaver away making finishing touches to the Stage 2 application I wanted to pull together what the team have got out of the project so far. But fret ye not! The blog will be alive and kicking until we hear about the Stage 2 application, so do not go anywhere.

  ML Martha LawrenceMartha Lawrence

Working in a museum means you have creative ideas for projects every day. Some of them never get beyond the “It’d be great to…” stage. Some of them, however, like Collections in the Landscape, you nurture and grow by discussion with colleagues, applying for funding, expanding the team, exploring new concepts and putting flesh on the bones to make something tangible. Coming to the end of the Stage 1 development year, having let our ideas and dreams develop into something we’ve written down and shared with people, albeit with the caveat “If we get the Stage 2 funding…”, I’m trying not to let myself get too excited about the future, in case our grant application isn’t successful. But, if it isn’t, this year has still been worth every minute and every penny as we’ve seen, done and learned so much. The museum is not the same place it was in August 2012 when the Stage 1 application was submitted.

 JP - 20140301_132205

Joe Perry

I feel very fortunate to have been swept along on the CITL ride. It’s given me the chance to work with some really interesting technologies and, more importantly, some really interesting people! It’s been a privilege to work with the team and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the hard work we’ve put in leads to great things in the future. My personal highlight was conducting research and app testing at Arbor Low, you really can’t beat a good henge…

 

 BJ - ben's a baby eagleBen Jones

It’s been an honour to serve with the CITL team; their enthusiasm and creativity knows no bounds, and nearly everyone watches Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, which is a bonus. I hope the hard work we’ve done is of benefit to the future of the museum. My favourite part of the project was recording memories of Buxton residents for the Stories of Shopping app. I fear that a lot of knowledge is getting lost because no one is recording or writing it down, so I’ve come out of stage 1 wanting to do more. I’ll also be pestering my managers to give the Randolph Douglas collection a permanent display and trying to persuade them that live medieval combat in the galleries is a good idea.

 

JC Croxden abbey Jess Coatesworth

Collections in the Landscape has been a challenging, fast-paced, educating experience. As a team we’ve been very lucky, we all get on (still!) and have worked really well together; the museum Digital Trails are testament to this. I’ve enjoyed getting to grips with social media and have grown to love Twitter. I know things about fossils that I never thought I would and have spent more time designing things than I would have anticipated. It is good to know that Collections in the Landscape project has benefitted the museum too, adding more detailed records, high quality photography, and improving the museum’s digital presence. There are some really great partnerships developing from this project and, regardless of the success of the Stage 2 application, Collections in the Landscape has introduced a way for us to all work together to publicise the wonderful history and heritage of the Peak District.

 

 AR - DSCF1526  Anna Rhodes

I was a bit daunted when we started Collections in the Landscape as I knew very little about innovative ways to use technology in museums. I was still getting my head around what apps were, let alone knowing how to go about making one. In the end I realise that it is no great mystery and the same skills are needed in both traditional and digital interpretation. The technology side was more accessible than I imagined and I think we sometimes do ourselves a disservice in thinking that we are too ‘museumy’ and won’t be able to grasp the technological side of things. If you had told me a year ago that I would be going into the ‘back end’ of an app to edit it, I wouldn’t have believed you. Oh, and I never thought I’d be such a fan of twitter hashtags, now I just need to get #TrumpetBroochTuesday viral.  

 

RW 6-14

I think the final work should go to the Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood:

 Where has the year gone?

 Collections in the Landscape is not just a project. It brought together many people, the team working here, our colleagues across the council, new partners, regular and new volunteers and experienced, wise advisers.

I always expected it would be an opportunity to learn new skills and see fledgling ideas grow and mature. The bonus has been the accumulation of information on databases and available to our users through a variety of routes. What is reassuring is that that the concept is sound. We have found ways that we can develop these ideas and make the collections available out there, in your pocket or at an internet link near you: your armchair, public library or local internet café.  

 Like all big adventures, there is lots of planning needed, and you make friends along the way. Stay with us – we are on the start of a wonderful adventure in the Peak.

Online Platforms

The Collections in the Landscape project has been all about getting the museum’s collection online, accessible and available in the landscape. The main platform for this is www.buxtonmuseumapps.com but we have also been using other digital platforms to showcase the collections and the work we are doing. I have been busy collating all this information for our Stage 2 application and thought it would be interesting to share some of our discoveries.

Since the beginning of the project, the Collections in the Landscape blog has been the main portal for all of the project content and news. It has also pulled together all of the museum’s social media feeds, which is great because only Facebook features on the main museum website. It has a small but loyal audience, that is growing slowly but steadily, and is actually a great way to disseminate project news to other members of staff.

Twitter

A good way to communicate quickly with other museum professionals

 

The museum joined Twitter in October. We have grown to love twitter but we have all found out that it takes a lot of work to make it a success (and there are five of us!). We began by expanding our audience with #FossilFridays and other hashtags, and we also publicise events and exhibitions on there. To our surprise, the main audience for the Twitter feed is other museums and museum professionals. This means it is a great resource for professional enquiries, publicising our work and seeing what others museums are up to. The downside of this is that posted links do not get as much attention as on sites like Facebook. Nevertheless, Twitter is a really useful platform and having that immediate connection to other museums is a great way to boost our profile and showcase our work, even if it isn’t in the way we originally expected.

Great for displaying good quality images, but how visitors use it is a mystery

Great for displaying good quality images, but how visitors use it is a mystery

 

Flickr is one of the online dinosaurs. Unlike other platforms, you do not have access to your visitor figures, so we have no idea if anyone actually looks at it or not! It is, however, very useful for our purpose and a lot of museums still use it. It offers us a platform to showcase the museum’s collections with high-quality images and any member of staff can easily update and change it. The main issue with Flickr is copyright. Using the site has made us consider the importance of the museum’s digital assets, as well the physical collections, which hadn’t previously been given much thought. If you have visited our Flickr site we would be interested to know what you thought.

It’s purple and popular

It’s purple and popular

 

The main museum website still takes the bulk of the online visitor figures and is the site we know the most about. The figures show trends that we wouldn’t have thought about; for instance, we get huge spikes in traffic during school holidays. It is also interesting to see how people are reaching the site. Many people search for us directly, or already know where they are going, but one of the biggest referral sites is daysoutwiththekids.co.uk, which we didn’t know about. This shows the importance of having a good hub website where other online projects link to (at the moment there is only a link to Facebook). We are really keen on developing the museum’s website further and, in partnership with the council’s IT team, are in the process of getting some of the collection records online. We are also thinking about making more Collections pages, to really show off what makes the museum special.

Digital Interpretation

The use of digital interpretation is a hot topic for museums at the moment, but it’s a difficult thing to get right. As part of Stage 2 in the Collections in the Landscape project we are hoping to redevelop the Wonders of the Peak gallery, and we see digital interpretation as a key part of that. One of the best ways to understand what works and what doesn’t is to go and visit other museums, so that’s what we did! I have to admit that I was a bit of a digi-skeptic when it comes to museums, I visit to see objects not screens, but even I was won over.

Gold Coin of Trajan - This level of detail would be hard to see in normal gallery conditions.

Gold Coin of Trajan – This level of detail would be hard to see in normal gallery conditions.

 

A good reason to use digital is to bring small or hard to view items to life, and make them easier to see. It is hard to see the real detail in a roman coin, especially when there is 20cm of case between you and the object. To get around this visitors often move closer to the case in order to see the object properly, which causes problems for other visitors. I experienced this first-hand when visiting the British Museum’s current exhibition, Vikings: Life and Legend. The objects themselves were incredible but because of their size, and the busyness of the exhibition, it was a struggle to see them sometimes (and I am relatively tall!). The problem was partly the amount of people, which is unlikely to cause the same issues for us, but it was mostly the scale of the objects that made it difficult.

Vikings: Life and Legend. No problem viewing Roskilde 6, but the cases at the back look a little busy.

Vikings: Life and Legend. No problem viewing Roskilde 6 but the cases at the back look a little busy.

 

One of the ways to get around this is by digital interpretation. There was no digital included as standard in the Viking exhibition, however, there were guides on iPhones available to rent. The additional charge put many visitors off, myself included, and only around 3% of people in the gallery were using them. The visitors with guides did seem to be using the space differently and were spending less time at the objects themselves; perhaps they were seeing things the rest of us weren’t. We have thought about designing an app or specific guide for Buxton Museum but the uptake in audio guides is so small that it isn’t practical for a museum of our size. We are also quite interested in touch tables. Although not a fan of digital in galleries, I would have loved a massive touch table in the Vikings exhibition featuring the Vale of York hoard. Not only could it have been used to view the objects in detail but an extra layer of information could have been added, making the objects far more accessible. This could be a useful interpretation tool for the recently acquired Kirk Ireton coin hoard and is already successfully being used for the Staffordshire Hoard.

Ed, Anna and Jess all using the digital interpretation on offer at Archives+

Ed, Anna and Jess putting the digital interpretation at Archives+ through its paces.

 

Archives+, in the Central library in Manchester, have embraced new digital approaches in their redevelopment. They have recently re-opened after a complete redevelopment of the building, funded by Manchester City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. We were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the new space and got to test out their digital offer. As a digi-skeptic and lover of archives I didn’t know what to expect. Archives+ face a different set of challenges to us; archives are hard to work with and difficult to engage people with. Paper is one of the most delicate materials to display, and, for conservation purposes, items can only be exhibited for a limited time. Audio and film archives can be intrusive and annoying in open gallery spaces. Archives+ avoid these problems by having a carefully designed space. Audio and film archives are available in separate booths to the side with directional speakers or headphones, and cases can be changed by a single member of staff.

The Oculus - situated in the centre of the building, it acts as a focal point.

The Oculus – situated in the centre of the building, it acts as a focal point. Audio booths can be seen behind.

 

There is very little original material on display in Archives+; instead they let the digital do the work. You can scroll through maps of Manchester from 1640, or look through the photographic archives of immigrant families. This is an approach that works well with delicate collections. The interactive that impressed us most was the Oculus in the middle of the gallery. It consists of three touch screen terminals that allow visitors to navigate a map of Manchester. The map contains around 50 points of interest and various different topics are covered by these points. The best thing is that everyone can see what and where the users of these terminals are looking at via the central map. We found this really drew people together and made you want to use it as a group. It was a positive visit and we all left feeling motivated about the digital options that are available. Digital seems to work well as a focal point, but is also a good way of making difficult items more accessible. While it should never replace original objects, it can be used to complement and support exhibitions to great effect.

HistoryPin

We are experimenting with getting our collections out and about on different online platforms. We currently use twitter, facebook , three blogs and a YouTube channel, with a varying degree of regularity and success.

Our newest venture is HistoryPin. HistoryPin allows users to ‘pin’ images, audio and text to maps, creating singular points of interest or curated trails. Our first foray has been to pin the images and texts from our ‘Stories of Shopping’ onto Spring Gardens in Buxton. Let us know what you think.

Image

We are hoping to add audio soon and also create trails using the content from our other apps.   It is early days for us, but it would be great if we could get more of our collections accessible online. Reading Museum have an impressive array of pinned collections and have created tours such as their ‘Three B’ tour which takes in flower Bulbs, Beer and Biscuits.

We are now racking our brains for suitably alliterative tour names… Wells, Water and Women? Flints, Firesteels and Faunal remains? We’ll let you know how we get on.

In Sickness and in Health

Some of the staff at Buxton Museum have been struck down by viruses recently. I myself suffered no less than two bouts of man flu just before Christmas. It seems to be an occupational hazard for those who work with the public. I was therefore entertained by a discovery from one of our volunteers last week: Brian turned up a poem about influenza written by none other than Sir William Boyd Dawkins. More famous for his innovative work in the fields of geology and archaeology, Boyd Dawkins is not really known for man flu or poetry.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins. Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins. Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

In an effort to illustrate for you a different aspect of the man’s character, I shall present the poem. Apparently, the following lines are to be sung to the tune of The Spider and the Fly, though I hope you are more familiar with this particular ditty than I.

Have you ever had the influenza, in the sunshine of young May,
When the East wind chills the flowers, as it hurries on its way
From the snowy steppes of Asia, from the Tartar’s sandy plain,
Over valley, over mountain, onwards to the Western Main?

If you have, you’ll know my feeling, as if my feet stuck to the ceiling
Head throbbing, downwards, looking on while boys are flowers stealing,
Or stray dog in garden gambolling is chasing a stray cat,
Or while from open entrance-hall thieves steal my Sunday hat.

Sneezing, wheezing, far from pleasing in my temper or my looks;
Growling, and not far from howling, sit I among my books.
Blinking like sad owl in desert, victim of an idle wish,
Or like pelican, who cannot in the sand find any fish.

The poem was published in the Pall Mall Gazette on May 27th 1891; a curious verse I’m sure you will agree. The vision of Boyd Dawkins blinking like a sad owl in the desert is not something you encounter every day.

Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

On a healthier note, Buxton was once famous as a spa resort. People with various afflictions and ailments would flock here to benefit from the high altitude and natural spring water. The building that houses Buxton Museum and Art Gallery started life as a hydropathic hotel. If you would like to know more, Collections in the Landscape has developed an app on the theme of Buxton Water and you can find it at http://www.buxtonmuseumapps.com/. Also see Jess’ earlier post about the history of Buxton as a spa town.

Getting Creative with Content

Collections in the Landscape is all about giving audiences more choice about how they access and engage with their heritage. Our developmental work, and previous projects and exhibitions, have all generated lots of quality digital content, incorporating images, audio, video and text. We’re already beginning to use certain digital platforms with some degree of success, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many means available to share this content as widely, and as creatively, as possible. After a quick research session, here are three of my favourites. Watch this space to see how we might use these in the near future!

History Pin
Our Buxton Shops pilot features images from the Board Collection, which captures bygone Buxton in a fantastic range of archive photographs. Some of these can already be found on Picture the Past. History Pin offers another platform which seems perfectly suited for such images.

history pin

History Pin Map, centred around Buxton

The concept is simple, upload your images through the platform and ‘pin’ them to a Google Map. The result of multiple users uploading content is a rich resource of historic images, all attached to specific places which can then be searched or filtered by visitors to the site or web app. I particularly like the ‘Collections’ option, which will allow us to bring any History Pin content together as Collections in the Landscape.

Every Trail
This site allows users to find and follow ‘trips’ shared by others or to record and create their own trail. The platform has a large, international community of users and is available as a handy app for phone or tablet. By adding content to Every Trail, we have the opportunity to reach an established audience.

 

Every Trail homepage

Every Trail homepage

 

Trips are basically a series of points, linked up to form the complete route. At each point the user can attach a number of different types of media, including text, image, audio and links to video or other web content. In its most simple form a trip could just be a series of directions or photographs, but obviously there’s the opportunity to attach richer, more engaging content for users to explore.

 
SCVNGR
This app (pronounced ‘scavenger’) is a location-based game where users ‘Go Places, Do Challenges and Earn Points’. There’s a neat video about it on SCVNGR’s Vimeo channel. This platform could add an extra layer of interactivity to our content

SCVNGR Homepage

SCVNGR Homepage

SCVNGR allows a user to create ‘Challenges’ which are attached to specific locations alongside other multimedia content. Once made public, other users who visit this locality can have a go and earn themselves points.

Challenges can be as simple as ‘checking in’ or taking and uploading a photo but can also be more tricky, such as solving riddles or clues. The points earned by users add an element of competition to the platform and in some cases can be exchanged for rewards by participating institutions.

Just writing about these platforms has got me fired up to try something out! I hope we can announce something soon. In the meantime, keep your eyes on the blog…