Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Memorial Hall Museum, American Centuries

Memorial Hall Museum online collection:

Interactive clothing:
The Memorial Hall Museum online collection features a plethora of interactive and static digitized items from their collection. The focus of the museum and online component is 17th to mid 20th century with emphasis on everyday life artifacts. It includes clothing, table ware and cook ware, carpentry and technology (spinning wheels, wool carding, lamps &c), and handwriting. The site does give some general narrative history but is more visual in content.
On the home page there are specific links for researchers, teachers, and students. The students are not quantified but after doing some of the fun activities I determined that primary school children are most likely the target audience. The site is crowded with thumbnails and associative symbols indicating that children with a low literacy level would be able to navigate and explore the site easily. There are four primary categories beyond the researcher, teacher, student menus that provide the clustering of the site content. These are the online collection where object and images searches may be performed, the “things to do” with more interactive aspects of the digitized collection including “dress up”, “objects in the round”, and “now read this”. The “objects in the round” requires QuickTime player which may be inconvenient for some educators or at-home researchers, but there is still plenty to do. “Now read this” provides the visitor with a scrap of 18th century writing and provides a text box into which one may type what they think the document says. The answer is given in transcript format and the spacing between the text in the clearer format suggest to me some form of OCR but this is not made explicit anywhere in the site. The searching functions are well designed with time period, place, keywords, and provided subject categorizations. The metadata for the general collection search is mostly narrative but a table in the upper right hand of each result does give the date, item title, acquisition number, and materials that the item is made of. The tone for the narrative metadata and directions for all the interactive portions is gentle and non-technical which again points to younger children and primary school educators as the target audience for most of the site. Every image has some degree of fluidity; the online collection without any associative interactive activities includes detail zooms of portions of each object that were felt by the curatorial or education staff to be of interest to visitors. There is little information about the maintenance of the site, but it appears to be in wonderful condition and well maintained. The collection is at this point static meaning there will be no additions. The site was primarily funded by an NEH grant. The about page lists contributors and staff including scholars, production and design staff, project funding assistance, and a history of the site and project. It explains the coverage period for dates and “teacher selected themes” including immigrants and “the land”, further providing reasons for the focus of the museum and digital effort on New England history and development. There was collaboration with 5th to 12th grade teachers who helped the site creators focus on educational needs concerning site design and object and activity inclusion

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