week 9: The future of digital history and scholarship

The reading from Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/digitizing/ in particular resonated with me.   I started volunteering and working in the museum field about 7 years ago and one of the things I have noticed is the push for museums to digitize their collections and make them available online.   At the very minimum most museums are expected to have a web site with a  link to information about their collection highlights.   Expectations are now leaning towards museums providing a link to a searchable database of at least part of their collection.

I have done some work in posting select collection objects to a searchable portal and it’s not easy.  There were issues with the compatibility of the collections software the museum used, the online portal, and editing the amount of information that was sent to the portal.  Ultimately, it didn’t happen.  The museum board assumed it could be done easily so no real plan was made and eventually the project was dropped.  But I have been at other museums where the effort to digitize has been successful and is ongoing.   The response from the public  and researchers has been very enthusiastic and requests for copies of photographs and other images is a good source of revenue for the museum.

I know that many museums had concerns in the beginning that digitizing and making images of their collections available online would decrease their visitation – in truth, it has actually helped increase visitation as people are more curious about the museum and want to see the actual object(s) they saw online.   I think it’s definitely the path that museums and other public institutions not just should take, but MUST take in order to attract more attention to themselves and attract researchers and visitors.


3 thoughts on “week 9: The future of digital history and scholarship

  1. That is a great point you make regarding the museums worrying about visitation. I personally have done exactly what they worried about. I once needed to do an art paper and was required to go downtown to the Walters. Well, luckily for me they have a great database online and therefore did not need to go. My question for you, is why did visitation numbers actually go up when material started being digitized? My guess is that people were able to get a sense of what was in the museum from viewing it online and then wanted to go actually see it


  2. I also think that going digital for museums and public institutions is a must. Technology has become an inseparable part of our lives and our dependence is just growing. So in order to reach the expected audience those places should adjust to their demands. Let’s say I’m planning a trip somewhere that I have never been before, what is the first thing that we normally do? Go online and try to find out the attractions and places to visit! So a museum with an appealing site that peaks my interest would certainly be on the list of places that I like to visit. But if I only know the name of a place and I don’t have a digital visual of it or some information about it I’m less likely to be interested in visiting it let alone trying to find it in an unknown place.


  3. That’s an interesting point you raise. As time passes, it will become crucial for museums and like institutions to digitize their sources. By doing so they can make themselves more attractive to potential visitors. However, as you say, this is a difficult task that will require a lot of man hours to be put in. I have never been involved in such a task, but it seems like it would take a lot of effort to accomplish. However, as you say, it is very beneficial to these types of institutions as digitization can strengthen and create new revenue sources.


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