TECHNOLOGY AND MOBILE HERITAGE

This panel explored how mobile applications have been used to link physical and virtual spaces. It explored how the creation of apps enable new users to engage with collections, in new spaces, and to engage with the curatorial process. What are the challenges of creating and using such content? What benefits can an app bring? And what is the potential for visitor agency in their design, content and use?


LACOCK UNLOCKED: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FOX TALBOT – HOW A MOBILE PHONE ‘APP’ CREATED BY AND DESIGNED BY YOUNG PEOPLE IS BRINGING LACOCK’S HISTORY TO LIFE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Claire Skinner, Wiltshire and Swindon Archives

In 2009 Wiltshire and Swindon Archives were asked to buy the archives of the Lacock Abbey estates, an important collection shedding light on life in North West Wiltshire from 12-20th centuries. (The village of Lacock, donated to the National Trust in 1944, is famous as the home of W H Fox Talbot, pioneer photographer.) Applying to HLF for funding (granted in 2012) encouraged us to look afresh at our audiences and identify areas for development. One of the most significant gaps was the audience aged 16-24 so in order to address this we worked with Wiltshire College’s Creative Wiltshire interactive media unit students to create a location-aware mobile phone app for both iPhone and Android devices.

It seemed very apt to be creating an app which would encourage people to use the latest digital media technology while visiting a place so closely associated with the creation of photography. It is also hoped that the process of designing and developing the app has been a valuable experience in project development work in creative media and heritage that may lead to career opportunities and employment for young people.

It was very important to us that the app should have a strong link to real-life stories and people discovered in the Lacock archives, and it was designed and built using research by existing volunteers. Volunteers of all ages also made a huge contribution by voicing a script telling various stories, woven in with music and images, triggered by GPS as visitors go round the village and also (long-term) available in an ‘armchair’ form.

This paper will discuss the development of our app and the many lessons learned along the way, and will hopefully inspire other heritage professionals to tackle the twin challenges of working with young people and new(ish) technology!


VISITOR AGENCY, CRITICAL PLAY AND HISTORY FROM BELOW: RETHINKING MOBILE HERITAGE INTERPRETATION
Steve Poole, University of the West of England

The heritage industry is awash with downloadable mobile apps offering non-specialist visitors augmented tours of historic sites and landscapes. In simple terms, many of these offer digital solutions to the ‘I think we need an app’ problem but, despite the radical nature of the technology, both content and delivery have tended to remain rooted in authoritative and didactic conservatism. ‘Authorised’ digital heritage, in other words, offers top-down interpretation and a concentration on either the social experience of elite individuals or daily life ‘below stairs’. Consequently, visitor agency at sites of heritage remains strictly limited.

But are there more imaginative and non-linear ways to engage heritage audiences with mobile and digital tools? One thing historians often agree upon about the past is that the fragmentary and sometimes conflicting nature of the archival record tends as much toward uncertainty as clear understanding. To many of us, interpretation may be as much about informed and imaginative selectivity and poly-vocalism as the delivery of objective ‘information’ and the much-loved ‘reveal’.

This paper discusses the potential of digital technologies to re-shape public engagement with heritage by privileging experiential learning, active and participatory agency, playfulness, and affect over the didactic delivery of ‘facts’. It takes as a case study one attempt to meet these criteria – the REACT/AHRC-funded Ghosts in the Garden for Bath’s Holburne Museum (2012) and prompts questions about the use of game and agency in the modelling of ‘knowledge’, and the potential of approaches like these for the production of a new heritage ‘from below’?


YOUR ‘PERSONAL ART JOURNEY’ AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY
Mona Walsh and Matt Terrington, The National Gallery

The National Gallery will present one of the latest outputs from its new communications strategy, the concept of the ‘personal art journey’, which aims to guide our audience through increasingly deeper layers of content. We hope to inspire interest in the attendees and trigger ideas and questions on how to create and organise complex information, in a way that users can experience with ease. Following the presentation we would seek an open discussion about the ideas and approaches required in order to facilitate seamless, high-quality and engaging user experiences.

At the National Gallery we always seek to enhance the digital experience for our audience. The ‘personal art journey’ is the conceptual model that the National Gallery will be using to ensure that our users, whether they are present in our galleries, or 1,000 miles away, can access content that will be relevant to their level of knowledge and experience. By categorising content based on the level of knowledge required, as well as subject type and medium, we can build digital experiences that will allow our audience, whether they are curious or a connoisseur, to find the right material for them. When we build in additional layers of contextualisation and personalisation, we will be able to present content and experiences which fit their individual tastes and interests.

Through the coupling of content categorisation and personalisation, the National Gallery aims to provide the most inspiring ways to experience art for our audience, by delivering a personal experience that establishes a role for Old Masters in their modern life.