A group from the University of Oregon Wired Humanities Projects teamed up with the University’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s (MNCH) staff to create a digital humanities “Navigating Knowledge” exhibition. The project’s objective was to preserve and display the valuable and historical Mesoamerican mapasand indigenous-authored pictorial histories of Spanish colonial Mexico.
With an average of 12,000 visitors to the museum each year, the staff had concerns about giving guests a unique interaction with the mapaswhile conserving these historical artifacts. Taking a digital approach would give members of the public an opportunity to glimpse into some of the most precious natural science and cultural objects in the museum’s collection without compromising the integrity of the artifacts. A successful implementation would allow museum visitors to reach out and virtually touch one-of-a-kind artifacts that were otherwise too fragile for interaction.
Typically, 3-4 staff members would design a digital exhibit and 1 member of the IT team would handle implementation. The exhibit staff drafted each individual artifact page using Adobe InDesign and exported these mockups as PDFs. From there, the IT staffer would hand code the layout and touch interactions using the PDFs as a guideline. Any audio or video content would be produced separately.
“A key barrier we faced was having a lot of content to share coupled with a narrative and explorative approach to that content,” says Josh Fitzgerald, doctoral student who acted as a Project Developer and Digital Content Specialist for this digital humanities initiative. “In addition, the large format touch screen display used for this project needed better, newer software to accommodate advanced interactivity.”
The team had dedicated around $20,000 of a $34,000 budget to printing, building a custom display case for the Mapa de Cuauhtlantzincoand technology for the experiential design. A 32” Samsung PM23F-BC touch screen with Tizen media player was used for the exhibit.
The question was how to create – with a limited budget – a modern and engaging interactive exhibit that could be easily maintained and updated by the existing staff.
Intuiface was identified as the leading candidate. “Over the course of the summer I conducted tests of Intuiface’s ‘free’ version,” says Fitzgerald. “Intuiface’s many instructional videos, webinars and the ability to download the full ‘free’ Composer and Player packages for evaluation made the decision simple.”
Intuiface’s no-coding requirement was a very beneficial time saver. “Not having to learn code was very valuable and the easily-accessible templates helped in the designing phase. I could test out the template experiences with our content added in. Designed to suit a variety of purposes, from commercial to educational, Intuiface is friendly to novice designers and Digital Humanities specialists alike.”
The Intuiface team offered support throughout the design and implementation phase and helped to identify underlying issues causing some slow processing and playback. “We consulted with members of the Intuiface team and recognized that that some aspects of our experience needed to be simplified to accommodate the performance capacity of our Tizen-based Samsung display.” By using smaller video file sizes in the design process and utilizing virtual navigation interaction sets, the team was able to complete the exhibit with the visitor’s satisfaction in mind.
The digital humanities exhibit, built using the Intuiface platform, has been live since March 2, 2018. It is comprised of 32 different content pages showcasing various aspects of the Mapa de San Andrés Mixtepec and the Mapa de Cuauhtlantzincoartifacts. The result is a memorable digital experience that promotes and preserves the museum’s collection.
Several members of the museum faculty voiced the usefulness of the interactive exhibit. Some of its capabilities include
● Showcasing artifacts in an exploratory fashion while preserving the historical objects
● Enabling visitors to take ownership of their exploration experience
● Permitting visitors to virtually navigate the roads, rivers and landscapes depicted in the museum’s collection of historical mapas
Up next for this exhibit is an exploration of the use of data tracking to identify the most and least popular items in the exhibit.
Both the Museum staff and the Wired Humanities Projects team were very pleased with the results. Due to the support, cost savings and intuitive design features offered by Intuiface, MNCH looks forward to using it for future exhibitions.
The original source material for this case study can be found in the detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the “Navigating Knowledge” exhibitrun in the Digital Humanities blogat the University of Oregon.