Digital exhibition | Heart of the Nation, Migration Museum
I sat down to look at the Migration Museum’s new online offering with trepidation. I wasn’t sure that an exhibition on my screen could affect me in the ways that physical exhibitions can. I am getting sick of looking at everything digitally. I’ve also become the worst kind of internet skim-reader so I wasn’t sure I had the attention span for a whole online exhibition. But in the case of this one, I read it all, every last word, and then I sent it onto friends and family who I knew would like to see it.
It shines a light on the stories and experiences of the people who have migrated to Britain to work for the NHS, explaining their vital role not just now, in the Covid crisis, but for the organisation’s entire 72-year history.
This feels like an exhibition to stroll through rather than scroll through. It has a physical quality to it, despite it being online. You can amble from one section to another, looking, reading, watching, listening.
The navigation works seamlessly, and I love how things appear on the page as you scroll – from different directions and in a range of sizes and colours. It demonstrates that great content and design really do need to have an equal footing to make an exhibition sing.
The best kind of exhibitions are the ones that make you recognise, acknowledge or explore things that you didn’t quite know before you visited. Sometimes it’s objects, discoveries, inventions. Sometimes it’s people – individuals, organisations, movements. And sometimes they can even enable you to recognise, acknowledge or explore things about yourself and your own history.
This exhibition had the latter effect on me. I realised that as a child of the 1980s, living in a white, working-class part of the UK, the only non-English sounding names that I heard were when my mother talked about her NHS colleagues. She was a radiographer and had (I understand now) one of the few voices that I heard that was completely without prejudice.
Through this exhibition I recognised that her attitude was born out of knowing people who were from different places and cultures, who had sometimes different religions, skin colour or life experiences. To her they were simply colleagues and friends who she spent her happy working life with. I’m grateful to the Migration Museum for highlighting this to me.
Twitter | Egham Museum
If, like me, you were keen on choose-your-own-adventure books when you were young, you will love Egham Museum’s inventive use of Twitter to tell a historical tale. The story is set in Royal Holloway College in 1887 and you, as the star of the tale, are one of the first students to enter this new educational institution. Your goal, as one of those students, is to stay out of trouble and avoid being sent to the principal’s office on your first day.
This is a fun and unusual use of Twitter, and it certainly engaged a large audience, putting the museum’s social media profile firmly on the map. The mind boggles how it pulled this together – I imagine some sort of large, complicated spreadsheet detailing all the different story options, and nerves of steel from the digital officer tweeting on the day. I loved it.
YouTube live talks | Natural History Museum, London
After the initial digital enthusiasm during lockdown, I recently stopped trying to read the whole internet every day.
I now tend to wait for something interesting to waft past my eyes on my daily social media scroll. I particularly like it when I spot something on Facebook and I can say, “Yes, I’m interested in that”, and then Facebook reminds me when to tune in.
I have been doing this recently with the Natural History Museum’s live talks. I spot things that I like the sound of, mark that I’m interested and then forget about them until I get a notification. It’s a simple mechanism that the museum uses very effectively to get people viewing its content in these times of digital overload.
I also like that the museum has made live events of this content. The talks happen twice every week and although they can be viewed on YouTube at any time after they have been recorded, there’s something about the live bit that I like. Maybe it’s to do with our diminished social connections: experiencing a live event at the same time as other people feels nicer than watching a YouTube video on my own.
The content is, as you’d expect from the museum’s scientists, engaging and compelling. And if you’re a fan of behind-the-scenes type talks, then keep an eye on the museum’s Facebook page for upcoming events, let them know which you’re interested in and it will do the rest.