Campus as Museum: A Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience
Here at CAP we think a lot about different ways of sharing our research. We can—and do—present at conferences, give public lectures, and publish site reports and journal articles. While these avenues are great for communicating our work to other experts, they are probably not the most effective ways of engaging the MSU community and the public. This blog is one way we communicate with the public about the campus heritage we uncover through our work. But how can we take this one step further and make the connection between campus heritage and campus space? One idea is to create an experience that turns MSU’s campus into a museum anyone can visit, with exhibits that not only showcase what we’ve discovered through archival and archaeological research, but also the processes involved in uncovering this knowledge.
The first iteration of this idea of campus as museum was msu.seum, a free mobile app that uses geopositioning to identify a user’s location on campus, point them to the nearest site of interest, and provide information on the history and archaeology of the site. Msu.seum was the outcome of collaboration between the Campus Archaeology Program, the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Initiative, and MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Science. The app was first designed and developed as part of the 2011 CHI Field School led by CHI director and MATRIX associate director Dr. Ethan Watrall. Content for msu.seum was developed by Dr. Goldstein and former Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock.
For my CAP project I have been working to update and help build a Campus Archaeology mobile experience on a new and improved platform that alleviates technical issues with the original msu.seum app and offers exciting new features. The new platform we are using is mbira, an open-source tool specifically designed for building and managing location-based and mobile cultural heritage experiences designed by MATRIX. The site we are building in mbira can be accessed as an app for Android and Apple devices, on mobile web browsers, and as a browser-based web app.
So, what exactly will the new Campus Archaeology mobile experience look like? The site has three major levels of organization: locations, exhibits, and explorations. Locations are the most basic level of organization. They appear as pins on an interactive map and are tied to real locations, including past and present campus buildings and sites CAP has excavated. When a user selects a location pin, they are provided with a description of the site’s history, similar to an artifact label in a traditional museum. Unlike traditional museums, locations also include a “Dig Deeper” section exposing the archaeological research that helped generate knowledge about that location, as well as a comment section. Our hope is that eventually users will be able to participate in conversations with us and other users to ask questions, share reactions, and contribute to our knowledge of campus sites.
Exhibits provide one option for users to experience locations. Exhibits connect several locations together based on an underlying theme. To date, we have created five permanent exhibits for the mobile experience. Four of these correspond to eras in campus history including Beginnings (1855-1870), Foundation (1870-1900), Expansion (1900-1925), and Legacy (1925-1955). Our fifth permanent exhibit, Discovery, includes locations associated with CAP’s archaeological investigations from 2005 to the present. Explorations provide another way for users to experience locations. Unlike exhibits, explorations join together locations intended to be experienced in a particular sequence. This feature could be used to create a self-guided tour.
So far, my work on this project has primarily focused on building the permanent exhibits. Last semester I updated content previously featured on msu.seum with findings from new investigations. I have also created new content that reflects more recent field schools and sites excavated since 2011. I am now putting the finishing touches on the permanent exhibits including attaching historical photos from MSU Archives and photos of artifacts and archaeological investigations to each of the 27 locations currently added to the site.
As we develop this Campus Archaeology mobile experience, we are continuing to think of new ways to build and expand. We hope to create temporary thematic exhibits and explorations that can be featured at different times throughout the year. One idea is to highlight and connect current CAP research—including research on sustainability, food, and gender—to locations on campus. Another idea is to create a Halloween exploration to coincide with the Haunted Tour Campus Archaeology cohosts with the MSU Paranormal Society.
While this project is still in development, we are looking forward to launching the site soon. In March, Dr. Watrall will be presenting a beta version at the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries conference in a paper titled “Towards an Approach to Building Mobile Digital Experiences for University Campus Heritage and Archaeology.” He will also be presenting on building mobile experiences for heritage and archaeology in this invited lecture. Stay tuned for the full launch of the CAP mobile experience later this year!