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Exhibition text and object labels. Initial reflection Who are you? Who is your museum?

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Presentation on theme: "Exhibition text and object labels. Initial reflection Who are you? Who is your museum?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Exhibition text and object labels

2 Initial reflection Who are you? Who is your museum?

3 Cabinets of curiosities MFA: table cabinet, ca. 1580-1600 (German)

4 Wunderkammer: wonder rooms Neapolitan pharmacist Ferrante Imperato exhibits his natural history collection to visitors (1599) Smithsonian Institution Libraries

5 scholarly contexts Ole Worms museum, Copenhagen (in 1655)

6 Ashmolean Museum

7 Enlightenment Collecting Idealized collection cabinet illustrated in Elementary Entomology, 1766

8 Beyond the Enlightenment American painter, collector, naturalist Charles Wilson Peale: The Artist in his Museum (self-portrait, 1822) Museums had to add to the general conscience, collect empirical knowledge and represent the prestige of the national state. Organized, in large museum halls are collections more opened for educative, nationalistic and economical functions.

9 Museum Era of Archaeology: 19 th century to 1930s Museums as places of knowledge collection and dissemination As archaeology becomes a field of study in the late 19 th century, museum needed to provide this information to the public at large Smithsonian established by Congress in 1846

10 The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University

11 1893

12 1975

13 1988

14 1995

15 Today

16 Museum research and writing Exhibits are the tip of the iceberg! – Primary sources – Related publications/sources – Related collections – Researcher work – Research/write-ups – Memos – Exhibit proposals – Consultation – Meetings – Visitor study – New presentations – New publications

17 Big Idea! Big Idea topic! – Big idea clearly states the exhibition or papers scope and focus Topic = other kinds of value Big Idea = what ABOUT other kinds of value? So what? Same with any scholarly writing: – Ulrich topic = The homespun in colonial period – Big Idea = How womens work in the colonial period was romanticized. How we can learn more of colonial history through the gaze of object. Tell particular story, not all stories

18 Label content Interpretive vs. descriptive Active vs. passive engagement New Museum Age: – dispersed authority – accountability


20 Big Idea Consider audience Interpretation Understanding audience

21 Writing a panel Topic Theme Message (When people have read this they will know…)

22 FACTORS AFFECTING TEXT Ferguson, et al (1995) identify a number of factors that shape texts: what is being discussed: the subject matter who is taking part: the audience the way the communication is taking place: the nature of language that translates to the style of the text the structures and form of language used: the choice of words and the interactions between the authors of the texts and the end user They also describe other factors specific to museums: museum visits are free form: visitors choose what they attend to museum texts complement other forms of interpretation, acting as labels for interactive, signposts and orientation devices and instructions museums have visitors: all kinds of people with a wide variety of learning styles and interests are motivated to visit museums for a range of reasons – Ferguson, L., MacLulich, C. & Ravelli, L. (1995). Meanings and messages: language guidelines for museum exhibitions. Sydney: Australian Museum

23 WRITING TEXT AND LABELS THAT WORK Serrell (1996, p.84-91) identified a number of steps in writing visitor friendly labels: start with information directly related to what visitors can see, feel, do, smell, or experience from where they are standing vary the length of the sentences use short paragraphs and small chunks, not large blocks of information metaphors are better for other forms of narrative, not labels alliteration is an easy device to overuse exclamation marks in labels shout at readers and force emphasis on them humor should be used sparingly use quotations when they advance the narrative and are necessary expect visitors to want to read use informative paragraph titles and subtitles have a snappy ending newspaper journalism is not a good model as articles are written with the assumption that readers will not read everything stay flexible within the label system - labels that all look the same become boring to read interrelate labels and their settings include visitors in the conversation: encourage their participation

24 V & A guide Write for your audience Stick to the text hierarchy and word count Organize your information Engage with the object Admit uncertainty Bring in the human element Sketch in the background Write as you would speak Construct your text with care Remember Orwells Six Rules

25 Packing and unpacking Containing the length of labels is like packing for a trip…consider packing in three separate piles: – The things we would like to take – The things we think we need – The things we absolutely cannot get along without And then take only the third group

26 Part of this is editing 1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print 2. Never use a long word where a short word will do 3. If it is possible to cut a word, always cut it out 4. Never use the passive when you can use the active 5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent 6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous – George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

27 The label as short story Active Subject Context Significance/message Reproduced photograph, man wearing headdress (2004.29.24259.1) 1898, Marquesas Islands William McM. Woodworth produced this studio photograph as a way for Western audiences to experience an "exotic" culture. This mans tattoos fascinated Western audiences but were also a way to convey adulthood and served as visual armor to ward off malevolent spirits and human enemies in his Polynesian culture.

28 Thinking about interpretations, labels, and archives Museum 2.0 – AAM curators committee – On display –|2|2 Social tagging – Archives and labels: – 302&partId=1&searchText=London&fromDate=1990&fromADBC=ad&toDate=2012&toADBC=ad&productionInfo=on &orig=/research/search_the_collection_database.aspx&images=on&numpages=10&currentPage=6?bioId=159228 302&partId=1&searchText=London&fromDate=1990&fromADBC=ad&toDate=2012&toADBC=ad&productionInfo=on &orig=/research/search_the_collection_database.aspx&images=on&numpages=10&currentPage=6?bioId=159228 Back to the British Museum: om_greenland.aspx om_greenland.aspx What is this? –$0040swg$002799-12- 40$002f52899$0027/0?t:state:flow=33d16d3f-e3e0-4c24-869c-41cb4add0b19$0040swg$002799-12- 40$002f52899$0027/0?t:state:flow=33d16d3f-e3e0-4c24-869c-41cb4add0b19

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