Exploring museums online, a deep dive into online exhibitions


Exploring museums online, a deep dive into online exhibitions

Meg Wolfe 
Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2021

During the 2021 spring semester, I interned at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s section of Anthropology and Archaeology. Due to the pandemic, I worked remotely and exclusively used the internet to carry out my project. I was tasked with creating a database that evaluated online exhibitions. This database will be used to help design the museum’s online exhibitions, primarily focusing on an ancient Egyptian exhibition for the Carnegie’s new project called From Egypt to Pittsburgh.

I started this project by evaluating different online exhibitions, spanning from the British Museum to the University of California Berkeley. In order to carry out this process, I consulted my internship mentor Dr. Lisa Haney and with her guidance I created a rubric where I recorded and explained my evaluations. I used different criteria including user friendliness, quality of information, accessibility, suitability on multiple types of devices, and overall experience to examine the effective qualities of these online exhibitions. 

Through my exploration of the virtual presence of various museum exhibitions, I saw the different ways information is presented online. There were cool and interesting features from these online exhibitions that when we go back inside museums could enhance the visitor’s experience. For example, my personal favorite was UC Berkeley’s interactive hieroglyphic translator on ancient sarcophaguses. On the other hand, there were also virtual strategies that presented the materials and collections in unappealing ways. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples presented their exhibition in the style of news articles. Which deemphasizes the visual aspects of the exhibition. 

Through this internship I learned how to create clear examples for my evaluations by gathering evidence to explain my assessments.  I also learned the importance of clearly stating my reasoning in for subjective judgments. The pandemic has made it much more difficult for people to get to museums, but online exhibitions are a great way for museums to share their collections. As these institutions expand their audiences, it is important that the experiences of people with disabilities or in remote locations be taken into account. This is why I asked Dr. Haney if I could look in depth into what existing exhibitions were doing to make themselves accessible. The museum world is becoming more aware of the importance of including people of all abilities, and I was glad for the opportunity to share my knowledge of disability issues with museum professionals.