Friday, October 16, 2015

New favorite things

Part of the MetKids website's massive cartoon map of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Okay, so I've been away from this blog longer than I expected when I "returned" to it at the end of August! It turns out that starting a new job and moving to a new city gives you less free time than I'd realized. (I think I was the only one who didn't realize this.)

I should explain that I've started working as the Media Fellow for the year at Dumbarton Oaks, a combination museum, historic house, rare book room, public garden, and humanities research center in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. One of the great parts of my job is that I get to explore how other museums and research institutes share, explain, and re-mediate their resources with both specialists and the general public. And along the way, I've been discovering some really amazingly smart, well-curated sites online! Here are two of my favorites:

The beautiful website Mnemosyne: Meanderings through Aby Warburg's Atlas is a joint project of Cornell University Library, Cornell University Press, and the Warburg Institute that showcases ten of the panels from Warburg's weird and wonderful Mnemosyne Atlas. Similar in some respects to—and (very) roughly contemporary with—Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project and Jung's Red Book, in his Mnemosyne Atlas, Warburg hoped that "symbolic images [taken from the entire span of Western art history], when juxtaposed and then placed in sequence, could foster immediate, synoptic insights into the afterlife of pathos-charged images depicting what he dubbed 'bewegtes Leben' (life in motion or animated life)."

The website's makers have come up with a flexible, intuitive interface that allows viewers to rove over each panel, with thorough yet accessible annotations from scholars and extensive bibliographical references. It shows off both technological and humanistic smarts at the same time, and the site is its own kind of stroke of genius showcasing another work of genius—an ideal realization of what digital curatorship might aspire to do. It's also incredibly addictive: you can easily lose a couple hours as you rove each collage, lingering over the images, notes, and footnotes. "Digital humanities" has run the risk of becoming a totally debased term in the past few years, but to my mind, this is some of the best of what it can do.

The other online project that I've fallen in love with is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's MetKids portal, which maps videos, photos, and artwork from children visiting the Met onto an enormous, fun drawing of the entire museum. What's brilliant about it is that the kids ask questions directly to curators—and the questions are usually things that everyone, adults included, would like to know but fears to ask! The production quality of the videos is a good model for short museum videos generally, and the content is consistently interesting. I'm a huge fan of this great video explaining how the Met gets large works—like the entire Temple of Dendur—into the museum. There's also a fun, funny interview between director Thomas Campbell and a gaggle of elementary-school kids, and a neat showcase for animation projects done by kids inspired by works of art in the museum. You'd think that the register would be exactly the opposite of the thorough, scholarly Mnemosyne Atlas, but somehow they're more similar than they are different—well-designed, intelligent engagements with centuries of art by excited, passionate guides. 

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