For Chiara Zuanni, exhibits in a museum are of enormous value. Her primary interest, however, is not in the beauty of an object, but in the details recorded in its metadata. This is structured descriptive information that includes everything known about the artist, the content of paintings, and the place of origin for texts or objects. Only a small percentage of all exhibits in collections around the world are documented in digital form, the museologist estimates, and an even smaller proportion are publicly accessible, complete with the relevant metadata. Metadata make it possible to compare objects using digital technology. “If we have as much information as possible about objects, we can relate them to each other and find parallels,” explains Zuanni. It is important that this data is openly available, so that it can be accessed and reused by others. Since 2018 Italian-born Zuanni has conducted her research at the Centre for Information Modelling – Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities. She originally studied archaeology in Italy, then completed a doctorate in Museology in the UK. Her main interest is how knowledge is communicated in museums.
Today we can use digital methods to present the stories of objects in interactive ways. “Where we used to have audio guides,” says the researcher, “we can now use apps.” A statue from ancient Athens for example is set in stone in a museum somewhere in Europe. “Usually we look at objects in an exhibition hall. We can’t touch them, can’t move them around, and certainly can’t see them in their original context,” says Zuanni. Virtual or augmented reality can recreate these worlds for us. “Visitors use VR glasses to step into the relevant period or epoch in which the artwork was created.”
Visitors’ responses are influential
Museums use social media to communicate with the public. Understanding and enhancing these new possibilities and evaluating their effect on visitors is another aspect of Zuanni’s research work. People leave evidence of their impressions in social networks. And this is exactly what she wants to make use of. “When interested people share their opinions or images of exhibitions in social media posts, that gives us feedback on the collections.” Studying this interaction on social media platforms can help the museums to develop better communication strategies and to use participative approaches for structuring and disseminating knowledge about our cultural heritage.