Hello everyone and welcome to this morning’s session, Letting go – historical authority in a user-generated world. We have gathered a panel of museum professionals who have envisioned projects that do not subscribe to conventional models of museum authority. Instead, their projects engage the public in dialectical methods to achieve more engaging, enriching museum experiences. In the spirit of such methodology, we would like to practice what we preach and encourage everyone to participate in a discussion, rather than rely on the expertise of our panelists alone. To do so, we would like to frame the discussion with a series of questions, and facilitate a collaborative effort in arriving at some answers. Before we begin, let me briefly introduce myself: I am Matthew Fisher, President of Night Kitchen Interactive. Working collaboratively with museums and arts and cultural heritage organizations, Night Kitchen has created a range of interactive experiences for museums. In recent years our focus has been on creating online experiences that encourage the public to participate in a transformative dialogs.
Today I will begin by briefly stating a few of the reasons that public history interpreters should “let go” of traditional models of interpretation and embrace a more dialectical approach. If you are in attendance here, chances are you are already “with us”. But nevertheless its important to acknowledge both the motivations and benefits for embracing new models of authority as well as the resistances and challenges associated with doing so.
Museums and Libraries are the public’s #1 trusted source of authoritative information. Shaking the foundation of the one, that is authority, is almost certain to impact the foundation of the other – trust. But in the age of the wisdom of the crowd, exemplified by wikipedia and the blogosphere, crowd-sourced knowledge construction is becoming the new standard. To hold on to traditional models of authority we run the risk of seeing museums become obsolete in the 21 st Century.
Traditional museum authority has many positive aspects: the museum is a respected institution that can be trusted to present factual information that has been well-documented and is widely shared among experts in a given field. But in a negative sense, its authority can be patronizing and/or paternalistic if an authoritarian curatorial voice presumes to deliver a singularly correct interpretation of artworks or artifacts on behalf of a so-called general public, assumed to be in need of proper edification. In short, museums can be exclusionary. While people from all walks of life are encouraged to attend, only some people's histories and cultures are being celebrated.
21 st Century museums must be more democratic than before, inviting community members to contribute to decisions about what histories will be told and the variety of ways in which artworks and artifacts can be interpreted. Museums are becoming more inclusive, as people contribute opinions shaped by diverse life experiences. I find it helpful to put the shared authority model into the context of some familiar learning models:
The transmission-absorption model of didactic, one-way knowledge transfer, while highly useful in many cases, gives way to a constructivist approach, in which learners or visitors act as active participants in problem-solving activities. They participate in new experiences and build on previous experiences to construct new knowledge, or 'make meaning'. The transformative model also casts learners as active participants and is structured around posing questions and engaging in dialog. It is distinct from generative teaching methods in terms of what knowledge is taught and for what purpose knowledge is constructed. Transformative methods are designed to help visitors understand knowledge as cultural capital, identify the uneven distribution of cultural capital and redress the social consequences of uneven distribution.
To do this, Museums must focus on facilitating, encouraging and evoking connections to, and among, their visitors. It is not enough to tell stories, but to elicit them. To ask questions and listen to the answers. To enable participation that not only impacts and potentially transforms the participant, but other visitors, and ultimately the museum itself. Now these concepts are not new – they have been around for decades. But the Internet allows us new and exciting opportunities to realize the democratization of ideas on a grand scale.
In the Web 1.0 era, the Internet was dominated by Conventional Authority: traditional thought-leaders and institutions involved in a one-way communication. Museums were largely involved in presenting collections interpreted through dynamic storytelling, immersive games, video and audio. Of course, online interactive exhibitions have a wonderful and vital role in fulfilling the museum mission. But in the Web 2.0 era, it is not enough to simply tell your story and exhibit your collection, online or off.
Instead, through the power of social media, we have entered into a fundamentally new era online. This is a true democratization of ideas and a platform for dialog unlike any before it. It is redefining community, participation and voice. It is redefining every aspect of our lives, and museums are no exception.
But with the new paradigm come new challenges, which is why we are here today: Who benefits from sharing authority? How do we do it effectively? How do we NOT do it? How do we balance our organizational authority with visitor voices? How does sharing authority change the way we perform public history & cultural heritage interpretation? How can organizations share authority cost effectively and sustainably? And who owns the content? Does it matter? Please tweet any additional questions or thoughts with the #AAM10 hashtag and we will attempt to answer them as well. I will now turn over the presentation to my co-chair, Bill Adair, Director of the Heritage Philadelphia Program, who will introduce our other panelists and facilitate the discussion.
Letting Go : AAM 2010 Presentation
Letting Go: Historical Authority in a User-Generated World
Traditional Museum Authority <ul><li>Positives </li></ul><ul><li>Respected, trusted institution </li></ul><ul><li>Provides well-documented, factual information </li></ul><ul><li>Widely shared among experts </li></ul><ul><li>Negatives </li></ul><ul><li>Patronizing and/or paternalistic </li></ul><ul><li>Presumes a singularly correct interpretation </li></ul><ul><li>Assumes a public in need of edification </li></ul>
New Museum Authority <ul><li>Democratic, inviting </li></ul><ul><li>Community contributes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>what histories are told </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>how artworks and artifacts are interpreted </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Inclusive </li></ul><ul><ul><li>People contribute opinions shaped by diverse life experiences </li></ul></ul>
Museum Learning Models <ul><li>Didactic </li></ul><ul><li>Visitors: Empty Vessel </li></ul><ul><li>Museum: Authoritative lecturer </li></ul><ul><li>Constructivist </li></ul><ul><li>Visitors: participants in construction of new knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Museums: Pose questions, encourage “make meaning” </li></ul><ul><li>Transformative </li></ul><ul><li>Similar to constructivism in method , differs in purpose </li></ul><ul><li>Museums and visitors, together, through dialog: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>understand knowledge as unevenly distributed cultural capital </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Redress social consequences of imbalances </li></ul></ul>
<ul><li>transformation through dialog </li></ul>
Social Authority SPECTATE JOIN COLLECT CRITIQUE CREATE
The Questions <ul><li>What works? </li></ul><ul><li>What doesn’t? </li></ul><ul><li>How can organizations share authority and still maintain control of their public image? </li></ul><ul><li>How does sharing authority change the way we perform public history & cultural heritage interpretation? </li></ul><ul><li>How can organizations share authority cost effectively and sustainably? </li></ul><ul><li>Who owns the content? Does it matter? </li></ul>