The idea for a digital project was initially conceived by Janine Rogers and Sophie Thomas in collaboration with Rebecca Dolgoy when organizing this conference and considering ways of continuing the conversation. Reg Beatty, along with research assistants Terrence Abrahams, and Kathleen Brennan and the Centre for Digital Humanities here at Ryerson University have been instrumental in bringing it to life. Over four short weeks, between September and October 2018, we were able to utilize our collective knowledge and put together this example interactive site.
The idea for the site was to create an interactive and informative experience that shows how knowledge is collective, expansive, and almost impossible to map. Exploration of these objects could lead from a butterfly to a scientific instrument to a work of sculpture art to a herd of caribou before looping all the way back to the butterfly. The intersectional and cross-cultural knowledge in museums lives within the very objects they house. The objects’ past is presented, and histories are discussed, but those who visit and study them can make further meaning from the objects for themselves.
We wanted to capture the nature of shared knowledge in a way that was markedly different from online museum collections archives or specially curated digital exhibitions by taking them out of the museum and presenting them solely online, but making sure they keep their pertinent information and provenances available.
We hope the labyrinthine nature of the project will excite rather than exhaust, and that the knowledge gleaned will open new doors rather than close them. Engaging with museum objects outside of the museum setting can lead to surprising conclusions, and the aim, overall, is to keep people interested in exploring connections between any and all objects present in institutions around the world.
Though this remains a potentially large work in progress, we aim to continue working on it and plan to develop it into an educational tool.
Rebecca Dolgoy ran a workshop during the University of Alberta’s annual Connections conference, organized by the Graduate Student Council of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies. Participants of this workshop were “invited to reflect ‘on the properties of things’ and worked together to both interpret and to create connections between objects. During the workshop, participants were invited to reflect on one object from their own critical vantage point. They then worked in groups to develop interpretive pathways emanating from one central object from Ryerson University’s Fashion Research Collection: ‘Man’s Chinese robe, ca. 1890s.'”
Now, with the help of Kathleen Brennan, the digital project will be utilizing StoryMaps to highlight specific objects that were “donated” to the On the Properties of Things team. The first two objects that will have their stories told are the indomitable butterflies from the Oxford Museum’s collection that served as a starting point for our digital project, as well as a jifu that belonged to medical missionary Dr. Philip Brunelleschi Cousland, who opened and operated a hospital in Chao Chow Fu, China, during the 1890s. This robe is now a part of Ryerson’s fashion collection, under the care and keeping of Ingrid Mida. The stories of these objects are numerous and we may continue to make connections today as their provenance goes on.