Creative Voucher Scheme
Geffrye Museum and Queen Mary University of London
Eleanor John, Geffrye Museum
Dr Alastair Owens, Queen Mary, University of London
Making the invisible visible: enabling audiences to ’see’ archive collections
The project sought to research and develop visualisation models for presenting the Geffrye’s unique archive of highly documented, digitised photographs of ordinary people’s homes (some 5,000 items). The vision was to go beyond the item-by-item list typically returned by searches on collections management systems, and to move towards a way of representing the archive that allows the user to be able to see and interrogate the archive in informative ways. Being able to explore collections data in this way has huge conceptual potential for thinking about the collections and what information about the subject area it contains. It changes the questions that can be asked of the data.
The project began with the recruitment and appointment of a researcher who carried out a literature review and review of current practice, across the museum industry in particular, regarding data visualisation. Following this assessment, it was established that an API (Application Program Interface) was necessary in order to enable the archives data to be exported into programmes that could present the material differently and make it more widely accessible. The project team worked with Systems Simulation Limited who had a Collaborative Doctoral Award project that was developing a visualisation tool, a timeline, that very beautifully presented collections across time of production, allowing the user to see the full spread of the collections – the peaks and troughs in terms of material and to zoom into particular items. They also looked at geographical visualisations, presenting the place of production/location of the home in question in the archive. Being able to explore collections data in this way has huge conceptual potential for thinking about the collections and what information about the subject area it contains. It changes the questions that can be asked of the data.
The project team worked with Mia Ridge, a leading academic looking at data visualisation, who ran a practical workshop for Geffrye staff and the Centre for the Study of Home’s (a joint Geffrye – Queen Mary Research Centre) PhD students and postdoctoral researchers on the uses and abuses of data visualisation. This in itself is an important connection for the Geffrye to have made. The outcomes of the project included a literature and practice review on data visualisation; staff better informed and up-skilled in terms of an understanding of data visualisation, its applications, and user tools; an API accessible through Github that makes our data available to other users and models for data visualisation – time line and geographical, which we aim to develop for use in our galleries (visitor mode) and in our library/collections study room (researcher mode).
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