Monday, November 12, 2007

Top-notch web presence for Australia's Powerhouse

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney Australia is a kind of "everything in the whole wide world" museum built off of the collections acquired for Australia's 1879 international exposition. (This model for museum building is reflected in the US in Chicago's Field Museum.)The museum's mission is broad-reaching: "The Powerhouse Museum develops collections and presents exhibitions and programs that explore science, design and history for the people of New South Wales and beyond."

As the online presence for such a broad institution, the museum's website, http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/ , is more of a clearinghouse for public historical, and more contemporary public knowledge than a more typical single-topic-focused public history website. From the powerhouse museum's website, it is possible to access information about Australia's Estonian immigrants, Princess Diana, the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the history and material culture of menstruation among others.

Beyond its eclectic access points, the Powerhouse Museum's website is making waves in the museum world because of its experiment with social tagging in its online collections database. To view the Powerhouse's user-generated tag-cloud go here: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/browsekeywords.php

Overall, I would rate the Powerhouse Museum's website 5 earths, based on the thoroughly considered website review system published by the Public History Resource Center. I believe it can serve as an example for a comprehensive learning center online. What is may lack in depth in certain areas, it makes up for in breadth and interest piquing.
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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Field Museum

As I'm in Chicago for the annual MCN conference, Yesterday I took the opportunity in the afternoon to visit the Field Museum so that I could check out the National September 11 Memorial Museum's esteemed exhibition designers' project, "Ancient Americas." The Field Museum is a lot like the American Museum of Natural History, rich with collections of natural materials and Native American Artifacts. It has its share of dreary cultural halls last updated in the 60s, 70s or 80s and giant stuffed animals, contrasted with blockbuster traveling exhibits like "Darwin" and "Maps." Ancient Americas, still new having opened in March, is part of their core exhibition space, accessible with general admission.

With the amount of material to cover, from the ice age to European encounter with the Aztecs and the Incas, and the amount of artifacts available, from southwestern Pueblo pots to Moche jewelry, I knew this exhibit must have been a challenge to pull off. I was impressed from beginning to end! Each gallery began with an orientation so I never felt lost. Artifacts were presented simultaneously on a human scale and with detailed information about archeological process. Interactives were simple but genuinely fun. None of the machines were out of order. Text was simple, but didn't feel dumbed down to me. Every time I was tired of standing, there was a bench to sit on. I spent about an hour and a half in the exhibit and I saw almost everything in as much detail as I wanted to. I didn't, however, have time to see any other exhibits in the museum.

So, hats off to Thinc for co-creating a fascinating exhibit and reinvigorating artifacts that I'm sure the Field has wanted to display in an interesting way for a long time.