Here’s where I set aside my Viking helm and put on the anthropologist’s hat for a bit. I apologize in advance for the diagram sketchs- I’ll be making proper nice looking diagrams once I’m back home for the evening. I have spent time in both the museum and the academic world over the course of my career thus far and it is pretty rare that you see a really strong integration of the two methodologies. In spite of my arguably biased opinion towards this exhibition’s subject whoever had the idea to make a concentrated effort on a variety of fronts had a stroke of genius. Really really well done. Instead of focusing upon delivering a concept focused on an exhibit curators have focused on a hybrid approach that magnifies the impact the content has. Rather than rely on an audience of museum lovers a concerted push is made to gain the interest of the TV audience. In turn this is exploited as a means of conveying the content’s meaning further into an audience that is traditionally seen as less receptive. I honestly think museum studies and museum anthropology programs would do well to closely examine what the curator’s have done with their work here because it changes how we need to consider the wider public beyond the museum doors.
By creating a virtual extension of the physical gallery space and seeking to expand the audience in this manner a change in the traditional exhibition/audience knowledge dynamic can be seen.
In the traditional view an institution’s mission statement and collections are utilized in response to perceived audience market desires and drivers. This drives an exhibition’s idea conception within the institution’s scope. Artifacts and staff expertise are applied to the endeavor with two qualifying vectors on the outcome- budget and funding availability. This is also linked to the amount of exhibition marketing in place. During the course of exhibition fabrication new knowledge may be produced thus lending a reflexive element to the system. The exhibition itself consists of the physical artifact/ art settings, any associated publications and online representation. These are the media utilized to convey the root idea of the exhibition. They interact and coordinate between them. The root concept is forwarded primarily during the event of exhibition attendence. It is an en masse download of information: reception with little influence. Marketing here is often focused on an already museum attending public and specialists.
In this changing world of cultural presentation a more nuanced example exists in the form of Vikings Live at the British Museum. There are two major changes that immediately increase the attending audiences [at least here in the US]. The first is the addition of film. Documentaries access the visual learner element of human populations thus expanding the market. The second addition is social media, which is equally as important to the expansion of audience demographic breadth. Here is the most important change to the entire dynamic- social media allows the audience a greater influence over the exhibition itself during construction and ongoing through the life of the installation in all of its forms. This is a social power increasingly recognized by the audience itself. This changes the information dynamic immediately as audience involvement is directly contributing to the wider body of knowledge in a more consistent fashion. The audience invests more than just time viewing the exhibition resulting in a longer period of interest and receptiveness towards the exhibition concept.
Viking helm back again- Reader, you have no idea how proud I am of my own research field to be at the forefront of this type of change in cultural information dynamics. Really. I hold it in as high esteem as I hold for the pragmatism of the North Atlantic settlement process itself. My ramblings don’t do it justice.
Happy Belated Leif Eriksson Day fearless Reader! Let’s have a moment in honor of history being remembered once more.
And another for the indigenous Dorset and Thule Inuit who became skraeling only after they began to accept what was considered to be poor exchanges from Norse traders for their expensive furs. Their history is just as important but is only now beginning to be seen in more complete conjunction with the incoming medieval Norse population.
On Tuesday evening I was finally able to see the Vikings Live at the British Museum presentation at the up-market movie theater in Stockton. This was a part of a nationwide showing arranged in a similar fashion to the original UK showing. I warn you now, Reader, this will be a long post as I’ve got all sorts of ideas bouncing around the ol’ brain pan at the moment. Its been split into two for clarity’s sake.
Overall this was well produced- as to be expected from the high standard British documentaries are known for. I’ll certainly be purchasing a copy once I am working more regularly again. It was fantastic to be able to go to a local venue and see many of the objects and people I’d travelled to Europe for after graduating from UC Berkeley. I do have one small critique- the artifact close-ups were at times blurry on that large of a screen. That may have been the projection equipment itself as I suspect this was filmed in digital HD. It probably won’t be a problem on a smaller screen.
For those who began to study Vikings after the famous British Museum exhibition curated by David Wilson in the 1980s this will remind you of why you wanted to learn more about the medieval North in the first place. It was very good to see some of the newer finds such as the Vale of York horde as I hadn’t yet seen them when I had to return to the US. I’m intrigued to read the accompanying exhibition guide and hope to place it next to my well-loved copy of Vikings! The North Atlantic Saga.