Van Dam’s Exhibit-Making Project [...]

These stories and the context from which they arose are the subject matter of an exhibit (“Thousands of Little Colored Windows: Brown University’s Stamp Collections”) that will be on display at the John Hay Library from February 10 through May 13, 2016. Hours are listed at http://library.brown.edu/hay/. The website for the exhibit, which features TAG, is http://library.brown.edu/stamps/.  

The exhibition was developed by students in Professor Steve Lubar’s course, AMST 1510 Museum Collecting and Collections, which focuses on the ways that museums care for their collections, make them available, and use them for research and education. In particular, students worked with approximately 675 stamps from Brown University Library’s historic and extensive set of stamp collections, researching their history, cataloguing them, and then creating the exhibition.

Each student chose 30 stamps to ingest into TAG, creating and assigning metadata to each stamp to fill TAG with educational information. Then, some students developed narrative tours with their stamps. “In the case of the Bhutan stamp,” explains Teaching Assistant Sarah Dylla, “student Anna Meyer used the tour as a platform to allow visitors to access the audio contained in these unconventional stamps. The tour plays audio from two versions of the stamp: a brief history of the nation of Bhutan, and the Bhutanese national anthem. There is transcribed text and a selection of images of Bhutan to accompany the audio.”

The principle focus for TAG in this exhibition was on how stamps reflect political change over time. Students had many sessions discussing the classification issues behind the types of metadata that would be appropriate in this context, learning the hard lessons about the terminology constraints of a targeted exposition versus the development of a resource base whose purpose is general exploration. The final metadata categories provided topics about the countries, stamp colors, and subject matter that are used for search in the collection.

“The project gave the students a good taste of the complications of creating a digital interactive device for a museum,” says Professor Lubar. “There’s creating the metadata and thinking about how people think and search. Then there are the constraints of the platform itself: what can we put in this and how will our categories and content (i.e. stamps) actually align with how TAG functions. How will that work in the gallery space? Online you often want to have many different ways of exploring.  In an exhibit space you want to narrow it down, to present specific experiences: here’s the point we’re trying to make, here are some objects to look at.” (Source)

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