Museum Memories Travel Digitally

By: lywam on July 29th, 2010

I’m currently working on a graduate degree in Museum Studies through Johns Hopkins University. How do I attend classes, you might wonder.

I connect with content, professors, and classmates, utilizing a wide range of technologies. Our online interface, Sakai, acts as our virtual classroom; Google Wave and Wikis are used for real-time, multi-user document sharing and editing; and Skype and Adobe Connect are our online web conferencing tools.

Wow. Listing these makes me feel so tech-savvy. If I am, it’s only because I have to be to keep up with my clever and many times younger and hipper classmates!

During a group project assignment, I was meeting via Skype with my assigned classmates, one living in Sarasota, FL, and the other in Baltimore, MD. We were (and currently still are) organizing a virtual exhibition drawn from the collection of the Walters Art Museum focusing on animals in art (a subject I’m comfortable with!).

During our discussion, my classmate Kara (from FL) said, “Erin, you know I grew up in Minocqua, right?” I didn’t. She quickly added, “Yeah, I came with my class to see a bird art show when I was in 5th or 6th grade.”

OK, she came to see Birds in Art. Considering my current responsibilities with the docent program, I asked, “How was it?”

Kara proceeded to share her memories: she recalled sitting on the floor with her fellow classmates and discussing an artwork – a painting of birds on a wire. She continued to describe how the docent led the students into a pretty in-depth discussion about where that wire was going and who was on it. Kara concluded by saying, “It’s a really fond memory for me.”

There was something magical about that moment. First, I felt fiercely proud of what we do at the Woodson Art Museum. I also found it incredibly powerful how this story was shared with me. It didn’t come from the visitor comment board or through a note sent via snail mail. It came while I was sitting with my laptop and headphones on in my home office, working on homework and chatting with classmates a thousand-plus miles away.

Reflecting on this experience makes me think about how far our museum memories travel. Who knew Kara would go on to pursue a career in museums or that our paths would cross. As New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman so aptly puts it, “the world is flat.”

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