Researching #Nymphgate and its impact to the Manchester Art Gallery

Social media has slowly, but surely, crept into our daily lives. We like, comment, and share posts with such regularity that these activities have become almost mundane. Whilst it can be easy to brush off social media as ‘simply’ marketing and communication tools, the power these networked technologies enable should not be ignored. Museums have adopted social media to engage with their communities and they are slowly adapting their use of these tools towards more participatory dialogue. Since museums are a reflection of their communities and their environments, and as they are not neutral or objective organisations, they often use their resources (i.e. collections and expertise) to participate in, and comment on, broader contemporary events (and trends).

An example of this type of participation is the recent performance project by Sonia Boyce at the Manchester Art Gallery, where the J.W. Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs painting was temporarily removed.

Waterhouse, John William, 1849-1917; Hylas and the Nymphs
Hylas and the Nymphs. J.W. Waterhouse. Credit: Manchester Art Gallery. http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hylas-and-the-nymphs-206346 

The performance seemed to have a double aim: to spark dialogue about the representation of the female body in the particular gallery space where the painting resides, and to question how items on display (in general) are interpreted. When the painting was removed, the Gallery invited visitors to leave their thoughts, comments, and responses on post-its ‘on display’, as well as invited visitors and audiences to converse online by using the hashtag #MAGSoniaBoyce.

The days that followed this performance brought a barrage of responses onsite and online. Most notably, the Gallery and the Contemporary Art Curator were accused of censorship and of ‘piggybacking’ on a serious social movement as part of a marketing stunt. The ample flood of reactions was so unexpected that it quickly became known as #nymphgate amongst Gallery staff.

nymphgate - 9
Post-its responses at the Manchester Art Gallery. Credit: Maria Paula Arias

My doctoral thesis explores how museums use social media to build, communicate, and expand on their brands (their identity and personality) – in it I propose that museum audiences and visitors (including non-visitors) have an active role in the brand-building of museums through their engagement on social media. The performance event at the Manchester Art Gallery is a timely case study that I aim to include in my thesis. Through the collection of social media data and a series of interviews, I aim to understand the process that led up to the performance (including decision-making, individuals involved, and communication strategies), as well as to understand the (un)intended role that social media played throughout. Furthermore, I aim to understand how the responses, particularly online, affected the organisation – for example in ways of working, public expectations, and the Gallery’s reputation.

 

 

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Making Selfies in Heritage Spaces Past Presencing through New Media

Professor Christoph Bareither has written a very interesting blog post, summarising the arguments of his presentation on the “Researching Digital Cultural Heritage” conference. You read it here: Making Selfies in Heritage Spaces Past Presencing through New Media

 

Conference Poster Highlights

Poster Picks: Four highlights from the Posters session

Written by Katherine Clough,
Conference blogger, Newcastle University/ V&A

On Thursday evening there was a posters session in the Graduate School foyer in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester.  The posters displayed around the room covered a range of digital heritage topics including archaeology, conservation, and how the digital can act as a platform for museums and archives. Here I have selected four as highlights (shown as thumbnail images below) that stood out to me during the evening on the basis of their design and communication of their subject, and reflecting on themes discussed in the sessions I attended on the first day of the conference (see the full list of posters)

poster picks

The first poster that caught my eye was ‘Investigating web communication in the domain of digital cultural heritage’ by Chiara Bartolini (University of Bologna) presenting research on how European University museums describe themselves on their website ‘About’ pages. The clear design used bar chart graphics and text, and was divided into two columns to reflecting the two methods used in the research on web-based museum identity and tone of address: move analysis and web writing features. The subject of this poster resonated with digital cultural heritage research tools for analysing online content, and provided a further example of the types of digital content that can be researched.

‘Coming Clean, Researcher for the Day: Inviting Visitors to Crowdsource Conservation Needs’ by Dr Catherine Dillon, Cymbeline Storey, (both University College London, Qatar), Dr Anna Bulow (British Museum), Katy Lithgow (National Trust), and Dr Stavroula Golfomitsou (University College London, Qatar) was the second poster that attracted my attention. This poster was in landscape format with its seven sections numbered in sequence to help the reader navigate the process of the research presented via text paragraphs and visual graphics. The subject of the research, asking “Who decides what is ‘dirt’, ‘unwanted’, or ‘non-original?’” in the museum resonated with afternoon discussions on the status of heritage visitors as users and as potential collaborators in digital cultural heritage research. In the project, visitors to British Museum and National Trust properties were asked to conduct photo surveys of items on display using digital cameras provided, with the resulting images then subject to thematic analysis, mapping and indexing, to better understand visitor perceptions of object care and the role of conservation in heritage places.

The use of colour coding and the archaeological theme is what drew me to the third poster highlighted here: ‘Identifying the ICTs role in archaeological site museums through a spatial and pragmatic analysis’ by Dr Paolo Campetella (University Roma Tre). After initially being drawn in by the clean design, the holistic approach outlined on this poster also resonated with discussions from the first day of the conference. Campetella’s research focused on the positioning of digital elements within ‘the whole museum experience’, using spatial, semiotic and narrative analyses to understand how digital devices are integrated at the Archaeological Museum of Grenoble and the Capitol Museums in Rome.

My final poster pick was ‘Placeholders: a digital archive of everyday objects and post-industrial towns’ by Seth Ellis (Griffith University) and Chris Cassidy (University of North Carolina at Greensboro). I found this poster interesting for its exploration of the new ways of ‘collecting’ and presenting heritage objects using data and metadata gathered about the object, resonating with wider discussions around digital materiality in the conference programme. I found Ellis and Cassidy’s proposed distinction between objects as being ‘digitally archived’ and physically collected, an interesting starting point for further extending ideas about ownership, curation and interpretation of heritage in the digital realm.

DAY ONE | Researching Digital Cultural Heritage 2017

Day One: Methods for approaching visual content, users, and partnerships in digital cultural heritage research

Written by Katherine Clough,
Conference blogger, Newcastle University/ V&A

The first day of the conference provided an abundance of digital culture heritage research with 22 talks on offer across the different sessions of the day split into two streams, following a keynote by Prof Sarah Kenderdine. Conference organisers Dr Kostas Arvanitis (University of Manchester) and Dr Areti Galani (Newcastle University) welcomed everyone and highlighted the two-day event as designed to cultivate a community of practice environment among researchers at different stages of their research. A presentation of 12 posters at the end of the day also provided further opportunity to scope additional emerging research (discussed in a separate blog post).

This blog post summarises highlights from across the first day, with the full programme and abstracts available elsewhere on this website. An overall theme that emerged from my experience on day one was the range of methodological skills in doing digital culture research. The sessions I attended were Visual Methodologies, Researching the User, and Reflecting on Partnerships.

METHODS graphic

Keynote

The distinguished archaeologist, curator, and researcher, Prof Sarah Kenderine (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) launched the conference with her keynote full with dazzling highlights of her digital heritage projects on the topic of ‘New models for experimental museology’. Five key concepts of aura and authencity, modes of spectatorship, visualising cultural data, archaeology of the body, and deep mapping, provided the structure for navigating theoretical concepts alongside the impressive body of professional digital practice presented. One key aspect of Kenderdine’s research that particularly struck me was her innovative approach to ‘rethinking the screen’ alongside ideas of spectatorship in digital exhibitions. Her highlighted projects included critical reflection on the use of small screens, such as hand-held iPad devices as portable windows into virtual reproductions of heritage sites (Mogao Grottoes), as well as displays that curve and surround the visitor in immersive environments, from fish eye projections on concave domes (Look Up Mumbai), to panoramic displays (Hidden Pasts / Digital Futures) and multiscreen installations (mARChive).

Kenderdine’s project on augmented reproductions of the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang, was not only interesting as an example of highly executed virtual-tourism that allowed the visiting and exploration of an endangered site, but also interesting for its use of innovative self-evaluation software (iShoU) with exhibition visitors. The iShoU evaluation app collected embodied and sensory information from the audience by inviting them to interact with scales and visual graphics on an iPad touch screen, rather than using a more prevalent word-based survey, with the completed results amalgamated, analysed, and visualised as additional cultural data in real time, demonstrating the potential efficiency of using digital tools as both presenting and capturing responses to cultural heritage. Capturing and digitising embodied knowledge is a major theme of Kenderdine’s latest research on creating a digital moving archive on the (in)tangible heritage of Kung Fu using motion sensory photography, film and animation. Overall, this keynote demonstrated the exciting potential of digital cultural research in the context of experimental museology using highly toned methodological skills, as well as introducing many theoretical concepts that (re)emerged throughout the presentations and questions in the rest of the day.

Visual Methodologies

Following the keynote, delegates had to decide between concurrent sessions held in the Kanaris Lecture Theatre and the Discovery Centre at the Manchester Museum. The morning Visual Methodologies session in the Kanaris Theatre explored ways of analysing visual content online, whether photographs uploaded on social media sites, on museum websites, or the appropriation of digital images by the internet ‘meme-community’. The two papers given by Maria Arias (University of Manchester) and Dr Orsalia-Eleni Kassaveti (National & Kapodistrian University of Athens) used visual methods to explore the ideas of space/place and cultural heritage through online picture sharing.

Using data on Instagram posts received from the UAE government, Maria Arias described her processes of selecting and cleaning data to analyse visual expressions of Doha Art museum visiting experiences using content analysis. Kassaveti’s paper’s outlined how her work investigated identity expressed through photos on Flickr uploaded in an Athens square in Greece, as part of the larger CoHERE research project.

Dr Helen Gorrill’s (University of Edinburgh) paper and Meredith Whitfield’s (University of Manchester) video presentation both offered reflection on methods for understanding digitised paintings available online. Gorrill explained how she and Prof Judith Mottram (Lancaster University) surveyed the use of colour in a sample of contemporary paintings completed after 1980 available on museums websites from Europe and North America to identify larger patterns and trends across the collections and present comparative studies in a series of visual graphics.

Meredith Whitfield’s video presented her research on the appropriation and layered meanings of art history memes – digital images of (mostly historic, less well known) paintings overlaid with text to become, often humorous, forms of visual communication shared by people online through hashtags and reposts on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

The skills for visual and digital analyses of material online for cultural heritage research represented in this session complemented and expanded upon methods outlined for approaching social media from the pre conference training (which focused on Facebook and Twitter).

Researching the user and reflecting on partnerships

While studies of online material access cultural data on users through their own posted content, the afternoon sessions in the Discovery Centre further considered ways of researching the user and reflecting on the role of partnerships in digital heritage research. Jess Hoare (Cardiff University) and Brian Moss (Newcastle University) presented different methods for digitally recording their studied cultural heritage sites visitors beyond the text based surveys used in audience research.

Hoare’s research seeks to capture internal embodied experience through her experimental use of Fitbit style sensors (an Emphatic E4 developed at MIT for research purposes) to measure emotional responses through bodily processes (electrodermal activity, EDA) as visitors view works of art in the gallery. Moss’s research captured embodied experience of walkers using heritage trail apps on their mobile phones through point-of-view video recordings via cameras attached to their chests; this enabled the physical interaction with the phone, and navigation of the app, as well of the landscape, to be recorded alongside walking interviews with participants. Thus digital methods are shown to extend the ability to capture information about people engaging with cultural heritage in ways that built upon Kenderdine’s opening keynote.

Ross Parry’s (University of Leicester) paper traced the developing status of the museum user as evolving from ‘operant’ in the 1960s (a passive cog in an institutional machine), to increased recognition as an ‘individual’ from the 1980s, and proposed that museum visitors today are best described as ‘actants’ – visitors with agency. This raised interesting questions about power relations, and ethics in the questions at the end of the user research session, but that paved the way for the topics covered in the following session on research partnerships in digital culture heritage.

Juhee Park (University College London) outlined a comparative study of agency at different levels of networks in three UK national museums and their affects on digital projects, highlighting the importance of considering institutional factors that influence digital culture heritage research. Prof Paul Marty (Florida State University) emphasised current trends to acknowledge the invisible work of many digital heritage research projects, and the ethical concerns of using underpaid but skilled student interns for digitisation, coding and cleaning data.

Harald Fredheim and L. Meghan Dennis (University of York), and Sarah Feinstein and Prof Margaret Littler (University of Manchester) offered some examples of successful partnerships, through the use of academic fields-schools on taught programmes at the University of York, and collaborative display projects in Manchester, respectively.

Skills, methods and professional practice were noticeable through all the sessions I attended on the first day of the conference. Discussions around issues of ethics surrounding both the use of data on individuals, and the relationships between researcher and participant continued into the conference sessions on the following day.

 

Networking in the digital humanities: Pre-conference research training day

Written by Katherine Clough,
Conference blogger, Newcastle University/ V&A

My experience of the Researching Digital Cultural Heritage Conference 2017 in Manchester started with the free Pre-Conference Research Training Day for Research Students and Early Career Researchers. It was a great opportunity to meet others interested in digital cultural heritage over the lunch and coffee breaks provided, and offered an introduction to using digital methods for research on social networks. Three presentations over the afternoon covered approaches to Social Network Analysis, using text mining with Facebook posts, and analysing the circulation and consumption of digital content on Twitter.

networking graphic

Understanding Social Network Analysis

After an initial welcome by conference organisers Dr Kostas Arvanitis and Dr Areti Galani, Prof. Martin Everett (University of Manchester) began the sessions by introducing established methods for Social Network Analysis (SNA). Everett succinctly outlined SNA as a useful methodology for capturing, storing, visualising and analysing relational data, highlighting how the focus on relations between things (described as nodes, agents and/or actors) enables recognition of wider social patterns of connectedness and influence. A whiz tour of the history of social network analysis methods was also covered, from its origins in the early development of the social sciences in the 1930s to the more recent boom of the method using large amounts of digital data made possible with the rise of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. A vast array of examples of social network diagrams were shown demonstrating its application to big data sets as well as smaller sample sizes, as well as introducing possible software for conducting social network analysis (Ucinet and Pajek), with a bibliography of texts also provided for further reading (see below). Attention was also drawn to how these methods can be useful starting points for further focused research, especially for identifying suitable individuals to study specific relationships within the network, for further ‘egonet’ analyses. Prof Everett’s summary of the potential of analysing social networks was a great opener, simultaneously reminding us all the existing use of SNA before the current era of digital social media, while also setting the scene for the following two sessions that focused on case studies of analysing content on popular social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter.

Four highlights of suggested further reading:
Borgatti, S. P., M. G. Everett, and J. C. Johnson. 2013. Analyzing Social Networks. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [Introduces Ucinet software package, see also http://www.analytictech.com .]
De Nooy, W., A. Mrvar, and V. Batagelj. 2005. Exploratory social network analysis with Pajek. New York: Cambridge University Press. [Introduces Pajek software, see also http://mrvar.fdv.uni-lj.si/pajek/ ]
Wasserman, S., and K. Faust. 1994. Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications. Cambridge University Press.
International Network for Social Network Analysis: http://www.insna.org/

 

Data mining and topic modelling for heritage on Facebook and Twitter

Dr Chiara Bonacchi and Marta Krzyzanska (University College London) provided an introduction to text mining and topic modelling for heritage studies drawing on their current larger AHRC funded research project Exploring Ancient Identities in Modern Britain. They outlined how they had chosen Facebook as a social media platform to text mine for their research case study, as well as introducing the processes of text mining and topic modelling. Several challenges were highlighted in text mining methods, including the potential ambiguity of key terms used to collect data, as well as the potential loss of contextual information in interpreting key words, such as sarcasm in online content. Bonnachi and Krzynanska’s training presentation offered tips for approaching these challenges from initial awareness of potential bias, to identifying more successful key terms (using the example of‘Brexit’ as a much less ambiguous term in their research than say ‘Norman’ which could be a person’s name as well as an historic time period), and using probability calculations on smaller detailed analysis of samples to account for likelihood of sarcasm.

Researching news and events on Twitter

The final session presented by Dr Chiara Zuanni (Victoria and Albert Museum) demonstrated the potential for studying the circulation and consumption of digital objects and conversation themes on twitter, using the examples of a viral video from Manchester Museum and the hashtag museumweek2016. Rather than looking for evidence of expression of ancient identities on social media, Zuanni’s presentation focused on examples of how specific digital content can be traced, collected and analysed to enrich the understanding of heritage audiences and online commentary on cultural events. Zuanni has written an article on the museum week hashtag, so focus here is given on her viral video case study. The viral video chosen for analysis was the Spinning Statuette – time lapse footage of an Ancient Egyptian figure recorded as slowly turning 360 degrees within the display case at Manchester Museum. Officially described as a the result of the statuette’s convex base pivoting to vibrations from visitors walking past the case, Zuanni was able to use data downloaded from twitter shares to analyse the circulation, distribution and varied interpretations of the video via written comments posted on the social platform. By collecting (using TAGS), coding (using Pivot table in MS Excel), and analysing the data Zuanni was able to produce maps that showed where the video was being shared on Twitter around the world, bar charts that recorded the most popular sources ‘retweeted’, and pie charts demonstrating the different kind of devices used to tweet. Selected quotes from the comments gave further context of the social impact of sharing the video and meanings generated by the twitter public. This example demonstrated the rich tapestry of data that can be made available for studying digital content on social media, using a case study also particularly rich in content due to the popular mysticism that is still widely associated with Ancient Egyptian collections.

Four highlights of suggested further reading:
‘Exploring ancient identities in modern Britain’ project description:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/research/directory/ironage-roman-heritages
Goodman, N., D. Light. 2016. Coding Twitter: lessons from a content analysis of informal science.
Villaespesa, E. 2013. ‘Diving into the Museum’s Social Media Stream. Analysis of the Visitor Experience in 140 Characters’, Proctor, N. and R. Cherry (eds.) Museums and the Web 2013. Silver Spring. http://mw2013.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/diving-into-the-museums-social-media-stream/
Zuanni, C. 2017. Italian Museums and Twitter: an analysis of Museum Week 2016. Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology. 1. www.archeostoriejpa.eu/2017_4c