Nurseries of living thought: growing museum knowledge in the digital age

Mike Jones
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Conference on Computers and their Potential Application in Museums, held at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in April 1968. In the decades since, museums have moved from automatic data processing and microfiche catalogues to databases, desktop computing, and collections online. Today, institutions like Museums Victoria provide collections data on their own site, through aggregators like Trove and the Atlas of Living Australia, and via an API (application programming interface). But despite these technological developments, significant knowledge about collections often doesn’t reach the public. This presentation looks at the evolution of computerised documentation systems and the limitations of past and current practice, drawing on examples from the Donald Thomson Collection (managed by Museums Victoria) and the A.C. Haddon Collection. Examining such material in the light of contemporary scholarship reveals the complex, iterative, and relational nature of collections based knowledge. As the number of users harvesting data continue to grow, museums need to reconsider the ways in which they describe their collections, providing more generous, networked digital knowledge to the communities they serve.

Mike Jones is an archivist, researcher and history postgraduate with a strong interest in sustainable digital practice. After six and a half years at the University of Melbourne’s eScholarship Research Centre (ESRC) he was awarded a McCoy Project PhD Scholarship and commenced his PhD in mid-December 2014, looking at interconnected networks of archives and object collections in museums. Mike is also a Research Associate at Museum Victoria, and continues to work as both a Consultant Research Archivist at the ESRC and an independent consultant. He is a member of the national Executive Committee, Australasian Association for Digital Humanities, and the Convenor of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Society of Archivists.

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