Episode Archive

105 episodes of Museum Archipelago since the first episode, which aired on April 3rd, 2015.

  • 105. Building a Better Visitor Experience with Open Source Software

    April 15th, 2024  |  14 mins 58 secs

    While working at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History during the pandemic, Dr. Morgan Rehnberg recognized the institution's limited capacity to develop new digitals exhibits with the proprietary solutions that are common in big museums. This challenge led Rehnberg to start work on Exhibitera, a free, open-source suite of software tools tailored for museum exhibit control that took advantage of the touch screens and computers that the museum already had.

    Today, as Vice President of Exhibits and Experiences at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Rehnberg continues to refine and expand Exhibitera, which he previously called Constellation. The software is crafted to enable institutions to independently create, manage, and update their interactive exhibits, even between infrequent retrofits. The overarching goal is to make sure that smaller museum’s aren’t “left in the 20th century” or reliant on costly bespoke interactive software solutions.

    Exhibitera is used in Fort Worth and Nashville and available to download. In this episode, Rehnberg shares his journey of creating Exhibitera to tackle his own issues, only to discover its broader applicability to numerous museums.

  • 104. What Large Institutions Can Learn From Small Museums

    February 26th, 2024  |  14 mins 52 secs

    The Murney Tower Museum in Kingston, Ontario, Canada is a small museum. Open for only four months of the year and featuring only one full-time staff member, the museum is similar in size to the vast majority of museums. With only a fraction of the resources of large institutions, this long tail distribution of small museums offers the full range of museum services: collection management, public programs, and curated exhibits.

    Dr. Simge Erdogan-O'Connor has dedicated her studies to understanding the unique dynamics and challenges faced by small museums, and is also the Murney Tower Museum’s sole full-time employee.

    In this episode, Dr. Erdogan-O'Connor describes the operation of The Murney Tower Museum, discusses the economic models of small museums, and muses on what small museums can teach larger ones.

  • 103. How Computers Transformed Museums and Created A New Type of Professional

    November 13th, 2023  |  14 mins 59 secs

    Computing work keeps museums running, but it’s largely invisible. That is, unless something goes wrong. For Dr. Paul Marty, Professor in the School of Information at Florida State University and his colleague Kathy Jones, Program Director of the Museum Studies Program at the Harvard Extension School, shining a light on the behind-the-scenes activities of museum technology workers was one of the main reasons to start the Oral Histories of Museum Computing project.

    The first museum technology conference was hosted in 1968 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This prescient event, titled “Conference on Computers and their Potential Application in Museums” was mostly focused on the cutting edge: better inventory management systems using computers instead of paper methods. However, it also foresaw the transformative impact of computers on museums—from digital artifacts to creating interactive exhibits to expanding audience reach beyond physical boundaries. Most of all, speakers understood that museum technologists would need to “join forces” with each other to learn and experiment better ways to use computers in museum settings.

    The Oral Histories of Museum Computing project collects the stories of what happened since that first museum technology conference, identifying the key historical themes, trends, and people behind the machines behind the museums. In this episode, Paul Marty and Kathy Jones describe their experience as museum technology professionals, the importance of conferences like the Museum Computer Network, and the benefits of compiling and sharing these oral histories.

  • 102. Copies in Museums

    July 31st, 2023  |  14 mins 55 secs

    On Berlin’s Museum Island, four stone lion statues perch in the Pergamon Museum. Three of these lions are originals — that is to say, lions carved from dolerite rock between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE in Samʼal (Zincirli) in southern Turkey. And one is a plaster copy made a little over 100 years ago.

    Pergamon Museum curator Pinar Durgun has heard a range of negative visitor reactions to this copy — from disappointment to feeling tricked — and engages visitors to think more deeply about copies. As an archeologist and art historian, Durgun is fascinated by the cultural attitude and history of copies: the stories they tell about their creators’ values, how they can be used to keep original objects in situ, and their role in repatriation or restitution cases.

    In this episode, Durgun describes the ways that museum visitors’ perception of authenticity has changed over time, how replicas jump-started museum collections in the late 19th-century, and some of the ethical implications of copies in museums.

  • 101. Buzludzha Always Centered Visitor Experience. Dora Ivanova is Using Its Structure to Create a New One.

    January 23rd, 2023  |  19 mins 48 secs

    Since it opened in 1981 to celebrate the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party, Buzludzha has centered the visitor experience. Every detail and sightline of the enormous disk of concrete perched on a mountaintop in the middle of Bulgaria was designed to impress, to show how Bulgarian communism was the way of the future – a kind of alternate Tomorrowland in the Balkan mountains. Once inside, visitors were treated to an immersive light show, where the mosaics of Marx and Lenin and Bulgarian partisan battles were illuminated at dramatic moments during a pre-recorded narration.

    But after communism fell in 1989, Buzludzha was abandoned. It was exposed to the elements, whipped by strong winds and frozen temperatures, and raided for scrap. Buzludzha has been a ruin far longer than it was a functional building, and in recent years the building has been close to collapse. Preventing this was the initial goal of Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova and the Buzludzha Project, which she founded in 2015. Since then, Ivanova and her team have been working to recruit international conservators, stabilize the building, and fundraise for its preservation.

    But Ivanova realized that protecting the building isn’t the end goal but just the first step of a much more interesting project – a space for Bulgaria to collectively reflect on its past and future, a space big enough for many experiences and many futures.

    In this episode, we journey to Buzludzha, where Ivanova gives us hard hats and takes us inside the building for the first time. We retrace the original visitor experience, dive deep into various visions for transforming Buzludzha into an immersive museum, and discuss how the building will be used as a storytelling platform.

  • 100. The Archipelago Museum

    November 28th, 2022  |  11 mins 23 secs

    In the early days of this podcast, every time I searched for Museum Archipelago on the internet, the top result would be a small museum in rural Finland called the Archipelago Museum.

    As my podcast continued to grow and my search rankings improved, I didn’t forget about the Archipelago Museum. Instead, I wondered what they were up to. What were the exhibits about? Did they ever come across my podcast? Were they annoyed by my similar name?

    And while the museum had a website and a map, there was no way to directly contact them. Years went by as the realization sank in—the only way to reach the museum was to physically show up at the museum. No planned appointment, no scheduled interview.

    So, for this very special 100th episode, I went to Finland and and visited the Rönnäs
    Archipelago Museum.

  • 99. Museums in Video Games

    August 8th, 2022  |  14 mins 20 secs

    The Computer Games Museum in Berlin knows that its visitors want to play games, so it lets them. The artifacts are fully-playable video games, from early arcade classics like PacMac to modern console and PC games, all with original hardware and controllers. By putting video games in a museum space, the Computer Games Museum invites visitors to become players.

    But, players can become visitors too. Video games have been inviting players into museum spaces for decades. In the mid 1990s, interaction designer Joe Kalicki remembers playing PacMan in another museum – only this one was inside a video game. In Namco Museum, players navigated a 3D museum space to access the games, elevating them to a high-culture setting.

    Since then, museums and their cultural shorthands have been a part of the video game landscape, implicitly inviting their players-turned-visitors to think critically about museums in the process.

    In this episode, Kalicki presents mainstream and indie examples of video games with museums inside them: from Animal Crossing’s village museum to Museum of Memories, which provides a virtual place for objects of sentimental value, to Occupy White Walls where players construct a museum, fill it with art – then invite others to come inside.

  • 98. At the Panama Canal Museum, Ana Elizabeth González Creates a Global Connection Point

    February 14th, 2022  |  13 mins 3 secs

    When Ana Elizabeth González was growing up in Panama, the history she learned about the Panama Canal in school told a narrow story about the engineering feat of the Canal’s construction by the United States. This public history reflected the politics of Panama and control over the Canal.

    Today, González is executive Director of the Panama Canal Museum, and she’s determined to use the Canal and the struggles over its authority to tell a broader story about the history of Panama – one centered around Panama as a point of connection from pre-Colonial times to the present day.

    In this episode, González describes the geographic destiny of the Isthmus of Panama, how America’s ownership of the Canal physically divided the country, and how her team is developing galleries covering Panama’s recent history.

  • 97. Richard Nixon Hoped to Never Say These Words about Apollo 11. In A New Exhibit, He Does.

    January 17th, 2022  |  14 mins 58 secs

    As the Apollo 11 astronauts hurtled towards the moon on July 18th, 1969, members of the Nixon administration realized they should probably make a contingency plan. If the astronauts didn’t make it – or, even more horrible, if they made it to the moon and crashed and had no way to get back to earth – Richard Nixon would have to address the nation. That haunting speech was written but fortunately was never delivered.

    But you can go to the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and watch Nixon somberly reciting those words. It looks like real historic footage, but it’s fake. Artists Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund used the text of the original address and media manipulation techniques like machine learning to create the synthetic Nixon for a film called In Event of Moon Disaster. It anchors an exhibit called Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen.

    In this episode, Panetta and Burgund discuss how they created In Event of Moon Disaster as a way to highlight various misinformation techniques, the changing literacy of the general public towards media manipulation, and the effectiveness of misinformation in the museum medium.

  • 96. Tegan Kehoe Explores American Healthcare Through 50 Museum Artifacts

    November 15th, 2021  |  14 mins 57 secs

    Public historian and writer Tegan Kehoe knows that museum visitors act differently around the same object presented in different contexts—like how the same visitor excited by a bayonet that causes a triangular wound in an exhibit of 18th-century weapons could be disgusted by that same artifact when it’s presented in an exhibit of 18th-century medicine. Kehoe, who specialises in the history of healthcare and medical science, is attuned to how objects can inspire empathy, especially in the healthcare context.

    Kehoe’s new book, Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures, looks for opportunities for empathy in museum exhibits all around the U.S. Each of the 50 artifacts presented in the book becomes a physical lens through which to examine the complexities of American society’s relationship with health, from a 1889 bottle of “Hostetter’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters” that claimed to cure a host of ailments to activist Ed Roberts’s power wheelchair that he customized to work with his range of motion.

    In this episode, Kehoe describes how her work has helped her see tropes in the way museums tend to present medical topics and artifacts, how the aura of medical expertise is often culturally granted, and how living through the current coronavirus pandemic changed her relationship with many of the artifacts.

  • 95. The Museum of Technology in Helsinki, Finland Knows Even the Most Futuristic Technology Will One Day Be History

    August 30th, 2021  |  11 mins 31 secs

    In 1969, noticing that technological progress was changing their fields, heads of Finish industry came together to found a technology museum in Finland. Today, the Museum of Technology in Helsinki is the only general technological museum in the country.

    But of course, technical progress didn’t stop changing, as service coordinator Maddie Hentunen notes, and that can be challenging for a museum to keep up.

    In this episode, Hentunen describes the museum’s philosophical stance on technology, how the museum balances industrial development with more open source design practices, and how the museum thinks about its own obsolescence.

  • 94. Jazz Dottin Guides Viewers Through Massachusetts’s Buried Black History

    June 28th, 2021  |  11 mins 54 secs

    The deliberate exclusion of Black history and the history of slavery in the American South has been slow to reverse. But Jazz Dottin, creator and host of the Black Gems Unearthed YouTube channel says it can be just as slow in New England. Each video features Dottin somewhere in her home state of Massachusetts, often in front of a plaque or historical marker, presenting what’s missing, excluded, or downplayed.

    The history discussed on Black Gems Unearthed has been left out by conventional museums, which are among the most trustworthy institutions in modern American life, according to the American Alliance of Museums. This trust may have more to do with power than truth-telling — and today, there are many different ways to build trust with an audience online. Shows like Dottin’s might point to where our new relationship with the authoritative voice is heading.

    In this episode, Dottin describes how working as tour guide and creating travel itineraries influences her work today, how she came up with the idea for Black Gems Unearthed, and what the future holds.