Reading Response: Narrative Interpretation

The readings from the last two modules have definitely shaped my thinking about my project. I kind of talked about some of this in my posts about personas and module 4 readings. To summarize those: Sherratt and Whitelaw have really neat ideas, and I wish I could incorporate their ideas about destabilizing institutions, interfaces, linear narratives, etc. I do think that user contributions do this to some extent, because they do not necessarily originate in some sort of institutional archive and they embody particularity and specificity and thereby disrupt the abstraction of linear historical narratives. For my project, the interface is limited to one of the Omeka themes, but as Steve Lubar points out, curation “rules” are not necessarily bad; they just need to be understood as constructed and not used uncritically.

Spichiger et al., Rabinowicz, and Sanabria et al. all discuss the tension between what Rabinowicz calls overviews and immersions, and this has been extremely helpful for me in conceptualizing my project. The partial exhibit I created for this module is more or less “the overview.” It’s meant to provide a big picture sense of how and why Detroit changed so dramatically after 1945. It’s intentionally written in “museum voice,” but I did tried to avoid constructing a linear narrative about how and why the geography of Detroit changed. User contributions – texts, stories, oral histories, images, photos, etc. – should complicate and add complexity to the exhibition. They are immersive, the puncta, the particles. Hopefully, some would be from groups who are often absent from institutional collections, marginalized, or otherwise silenced. These are the elements that challenge Lubar’s rules, even if the exhibition piece of my project tends to follow them. My project will end up ultimately end up speaking with multiple voices, albeit not to the extent of the Raid on Deerfield site. It is interesting to think what a similar site dealing with Detroit history would look like (and a friend pointed me to this excellent blog post that deals with similar conflicts in Detroit).

More than anything else, the readings, especially Rabinowicz and Spichiger et al., this week emphasized how much thought and labor go into exhibitions, both physical and digital. I had no idea there were so many guidelines, best practices, and so on for writing labels (I mean, I shouldn’t be too surprised, given how many parallel documents there are in libraryland). Exhibitions often appear natural or obvious, so Rabinowicz’s thorough unpacking and description of creating an exhibition was illuminating. Of course, when I began writing captions for my tiny little online exhibit, this all registered at a much more visceral level.

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