Enhancing Museum Narratives: Tales of Things and UCL's Grant Museum

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Claire Stephanie Ross

    University College London

  2. 2. A. Hudson Smith

    University College London

  3. 3. Melissa Terras

    University College London

  4. 4. Claire Warwick

    University College London

  5. 5. Mark Carnall

    University College London

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Enhancing Museum Narratives: Tales of Things and UCL’s Grant Museum
Ross, Claire, University College London, claire.ross@ucl.ac.uk
Hudson Smith, A., University College London, a.hudson-smith@ucl.ac.uk
Terras, Melissa, University College London, m.terras@ucl.ac.uk
Warwick, Claire, University College London, c.warwick@ucl.ac.uk
Carnall, Mark, University College London, mark.carnall@ucl.ac.uk
Emergent mobile technologies offer museum professionals new ways of engaging visitors with their collections. Museums are powerful learning environments and mobile technology can enable visitors to experience the narratives in museum objects and galleries and integrate them with their own personal reflections and interpretations. UCL’s QRator project is exploring how handheld mobile devices and interactive digital labels can create new models for public engagement, personal meaning making and the construction of narrative opportunities inside museum spaces.

The QRator project is located within the emerging technical and cultural phenomenon known as ‘The Internet of Things’: the technical and cultural shift that is anticipated as society moves to a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is ‘on’, and connected in some way to the Internet. The project is based around technology developed at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL and is an extension of the ‘Tales of Things’ project which has developed a ‘method for cataloguing physical objects online which could make museums and galleries a more interactive experience’ (Giles, 2010) via means of QR tags.

The project aims to genuinely empower members of the public within the Grant Museum by allowing them to become the ‘Curators’. The project develops a custom UCL Museums iPhone, iPad and Android application which will be available free of charge from the iTunes store and Android market place.Small printed QR codes for museum objects will be created, linked to an online database allowing the public to view ‘curated’ information and most notably to send back their own interpretation and views via their own mobile phone. Unique in the UCL technology is the ability to ‘write’ back to the QR codes. This allows member of the pubic to type in their thoughts and interpretation of the object and click ‘send’. Similar in nature to sending a text message, the system will enable the Grant Museum to become a true forum for academic-public debate, using low cost, readily available technology, enabling the public to collaborate and discuss object interpretation with museum curators and academic researchers. Visitors narratives subsequently become part of the museum objects history and ultimately the display itself via the interactive label system to allow the display of comments and information directly next to the artifacts.

QRator provides the opportunity to move the discussion of objects from the museum label onto users’ mobile phones, allowing the creation of a sustainable, world leading model for two-way public interaction in museum spaces. UCL's Grant Museum of Zoology houses one of the country's oldest and most important natural history collections. The Grant museum has a strong history as a teaching collection but also functions as a key gateway for the public to engage with academic issues in innovative ways.

Museums have undergone a fundamental shift from being primarily a presenter of objects to being a site for experiences, which offer visitors opportunities for individual meaning making and narrative creation. Many visitors expect or want to engage with a subject, physically as well as personally (Adams et al 2004; Falk and Dierking 2000). Visitors see interactive technology as an important stimulus for learning and engagement (Falk et al 2002; Black 2005), empowering users to construct their own narratives in response to museum exhibits. Beyond expected content synthesis, these immersive activities can stimulate learning. Engaged within this immersive environment, museum objects become rich sources of innovation and personal growth (Fisher and Twiss-Garrity 2007). When visitors experience a museum which actively encourages individual narrative construction, their activity is directed not towards the acquisition or receipt of the information being communicated by the museum, but rather towards the construction of a very personal interpretation of museum objects and collections. The unpredictability of multiple narrative forms created by the use of mobile devices and interactive labels introduces new considerations to the process by which museums convey object and collection interpretation and opens up museums to become a more engaging experience.

The participation in collaborative narrative creation centred around museum objects can provoke creative, independent analysis, promoting a personal connection with museum exhibition subject matter that is unparalleled in more traditional and passive approaches (Silverman 1995; Roberts 1997; Hooper-Greenhill 2000; Fisher and Twiss-Garrity 2007). This research aims to stress the necessity in actively engaging visitors in the creation of their own interpretations of museum collections. This poster presents the development of the QRator project so far, highlights the user centred development activities, its opportunities, challenges and provides an insight into how utilising mobile technology can enhance visitor meaning making and narrative construction.

Adams, M., Luke, J. and Moussouri, T. (2004), Interactivity: Moving Beyond Terminology. Curator: The Museum Journal, 47: 155–170

Black, G. 2005 The Engaging museum: Developing museums for visitor involvement,

Falk, J. H. Dierking, L. D. 2000 Learning from the Museum: Visitor Experiences and Making Meaning,

Falk, J. H. Cohen Jones, M. Dierking, L. D. Heimlich, J. Scott, C. Rennie, L. 2002 “A multi-institutional study of exhibition interactives in science centers and museums, ” Unpublished evaluation report. Annapolis, MD: Institute for Learning Innovation,

Fisher, M. Twiss-Garrity., B.A. 2007 “Remixing Exhibits: Constructing Participatory Narratives With On-Line Tools To Augment Museum Experiences, ” Trant, J., Bearman, D. (eds). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives and Museum Informatics, (link) 19th October 2010

Giles, J. 17th April 2010 “Barcodes help objects tell their stories, ” New Scientist,

Hooper-Greenhill, E. 2000 “Museums and the interpretation of visual culture, ” Museum Meanings Series,

Roberts, L.C. 1997 From Knowledge to Narrative: Educators and the Changing Museum.,

Silverman, L. H. 1995 “Visitor meaning making in museums for a new age, ” Curator, 38(3) 161-169

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2011
"Big Tent Digital Humanities"

Hosted at Stanford University

Stanford, California, United States

June 19, 2011 - June 22, 2011

151 works by 361 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (still needs to be added)

Conference website: https://dh2011.stanford.edu/

Series: ADHO (6)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None