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Posts Tagged ‘London’

#CitizenCurators

As the London Olympics draw to a close, I want to call attention to a lovely project by Museum of London (partnering with the University of Westminster). It’s called #CitizenCurators and it aims to document the life of everyday London residents during the Olympic Games. The museum appointed 18 official citizen curators, chosen to be representative of the makeup of the city. But also, anyone who tweeted with the hashtag #CitizenCurator will have their tweets archived by the museum. An edited version of each day’s tweets are posted on Storify.

I browsed the tweets and found a mixture of interesting scenes captured on the street (like the lovely Jamaica fan above), Olympic material culture (like these Union Jack hijabs; the coordinators specifically asked citizen curators to document objects), reports on Londoners’ experiences watching events or trying to get tickets, and snarky comments or complaints from a local point of view (“Wenlock pens people. Pens. How? Why? What have we done to deserve this?”).

It’s so important that the Museum of London, as collector and preserver of the city’s history, chose to turn its Olympic attention to everyday residents. So often the city archives of such major events contain a whitewashed, top-down version of history. But this project represents a turn to a much more participatory and granulated historical record.

I’m reminded of the coda to the last chapter of Carol Kammen’s On Doing Local History. She writes about the importance of documenting your place in the present, while it is still fresh. Kammen suggests a more analog methodology, mind you, but the spirit is the same as #citizencurators. She includes a three-page list of phenomena one might want to document, and enlist other locals in documenting, about their city or town. Here are a few of my favorites: local signs of the change of seasons; routines of place: rush hours, quiet times; those out of sight: who is not seen; and what sits at the curb for the garbage collector. Expect to see more like this in the years to come.

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I make a lot of qualitative comparisons of city museums. But recently I’ve been thinking about quantitative comparison; what do the numbers say regarding which city museums are working and which ones aren’t? Annual visitation is one useful comparison, particularly annual visitation in relation to overall population, or annual visitation as compared with the art museums in the same cities. I’m slowly compiling the data on this—not every museum publishes their numbers, and there are a lot of variables in terms of how visitation is counted.

A few weeks ago I realized that comparing TripAdvisor reviews might also yield some interesting information. TripAdvisor reviews are posted by members of the general public, not by museum professionals like me (at least most of them aren’t posted by people like me), and unlike the visitation figures, all of the scores are crunched using the same formula. So I took a look at the TripAdvisor reviews for 32 city museums in Europe and North America. I mainly stuck to the ones I have personally visited, although I threw in a few additional ones (Ghent, Vancouver, Liverpool) I want to visit because they are generating buzz. First, a little context:

  1. Most of the reviews on TripAdvisor are posted by tourists, not locals. Occasionally a reviewer’s profile location matches the review city, but most of the time these are folks assessing their sightseeing experience while traveling.
  2. TripAdvisor reviewers (if their profile locations are to be believed) come from all over the world (TripAdvisor provides a Google Translate button).
  3. Fifteen of the 32 city museums each had 5 reviews or less, which means we have to take the scores with a grain of salt.
  4. Not every place in my survey is a spot-on city museum in the traditional sense (run by a non-profit organization or the local government, with a mission to preserve and disseminate the history of its city). I included a few outliers that offer city history exhibitions but don’t fit the standard mold (the for-profit Story of Berlin, for example).

With that background in mind, how did these city museums rate? On one hand, very well. 24 of 32 received scores of 4 stars or better, on a 5-star scale. There was only one score lower than 3 stars. This may simply mean that the kind of folks who visit city museums while on vacation, and then rate them, are the kind of folks who are predisposed to like city museums. The following museums scored a 4.5 (with number of reviews in parentheses after the name): Museum of London (104), Atlanta History Center (46), Story of Berlin (33), Museum of the History of Barcelona (29), Heinz History Center/Pittsburgh (28), People’s Palace/Glasgow (16), STAM/Ghent (5), Detroit Historical Museum (5), Stockholm City Museum (4), and McCord Museum/Montreal (3).

On the other hand, the TripAdvisor ratings suggest that city museums are rarely among the top things to do in their cities. TripAdvisor ranks all the attractions in any given city based on number and quality of reviews. Only 5 city museums ranked in the top 10 for their cities: Atlanta History Center (3/167), Heinz History Center/Pittsburgh (3/50), STAM/Ghent (5/27), Vapriiki Museum Centre/Tampere (9/26), and Turku Castle and Historical Museum (9/14). With the exception of Atlanta, these seem to be cities with few attractions overall. If I try to control for number of attractions in each city, the city museums that come out ahead are Atlanta History Center (3/167), Museum of London (16/720), Heinz History Center/Pittsburgh (3/50), People’s Palace/Glasgow (11/135), Museum of the History of Barcelona (17/204), and Pointe-à-Callière/Montreal (19/199).

I noticed a couple of other themes from the textual reviews. First, TripAdvisors made note of free admission as something they valued (Helsinki City Museum, Musée Carnavalet/Paris, Museum of London, Museum of Edinburgh), not surprising. Second, some museums have unusual features you don’t see other places (Mannekin Pis wardrobe at Museum of the City of Brussels, the Kaiser Panorama at Markisches Museum/Berlin, the nuclear fallout shelter at Story of Berlin, and the archaeological excavations on the lower levels of Pointe-à-Callière/Montreal and Museum of the History of Barcelona), which then get reinforced in the reviews as a reason TripAdvisors think other people should visit.

Lastly, it’s interesting that several of my personal favorites (Helsinki City Museum, Museum of Copenhagen, Amsterdam Museum) did reasonably well (4 stars each) but did not stand out. And Museum of the History of the City of Luxembourg wasn’t reviewed at all. Maybe they would fare better with local reviewers?

I learned a little from this exercise but not as much as I’d hoped. I’m going to keep my eyes out for other numbers to compare. In the meantime, it looks like I’ve got some reviews to write…

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Museum of London via Londonist

The Museum of London just launched an IPhone app that allows users to pull up geo-tagged photos and paintings all over the city, similar to the Sydney Powerhouse Museum project I described a few weeks ago.

There are a few more images of StreetMuseum available at Londonist to give you a sense of how it might work. The launch of StreetMuseum is part of the fanfare for the Museum of London’s new Galleries of Modern London, a £20 million undertaking that opens May 28. Museum of London is considered to be one of the leaders in the city museum field, so I am very interested to check out this new project when I travel to London in July. In the meantime, here’s an early review from the Times.

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Here’s something I’ve been seeing a lot of in city museums: street signs in the lobby.

I took this photo at the Museum of London in February:

(more…)

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