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October 12, 2018

A Question of Authenticity: Digital Artifacts in Museums

October 12, 2018 | By | No Comments

One of the reasons I was drawn to the CHI fellowship was my interest in the digital preservation of artifacts and historical sites for use in museums. I saw the opportunities of photogrammetry and 3D rendering as essential to the future of museums of any kind and wanted to learn more about the possibility of making history more tangible through digital tools. However, one of the main issues raised against the use of digital artifacts in museums is the question of authenticity.

So what does it mean for digital artifacts to be authentic? While in research authenticity has a strict definition and requires the inclusion of meta data, in museums authenticity is especially difficult to define. This is because in this case, authenticity is rooted in the experience of the individual. If a visitor feels their interaction with the artifact is authentic, then it was, and vice versa. This means that museums can use a broader definition of authentic when they created interactive exhibits.

In addition, museums are consistently moving towards including the community and providing interactive experiences. For use in educational demonstrations when artifacts will be repeatedly handled by the public, museums typically use objects that were donated with unknown provenance, because this is largely where an artifact’s value is derived. While these serve an important role in education, digital representations and 3D printed replications can serve the same purpose and for a wider audience. 3D copies are useful for on-site use and can be easily reproduced. Digital representations, especially 3D interactive tools, can be important points of connection for visitors both in the museum and online. But, are they authentic?

In the case of museums, the debate is still ongoing, but I believe that there’s nothing unauthentic about this kind of interaction. In an increasingly digital age, people, younger audiences especially, are used to interacting through these kinds of mediums. More importantly, while valuable historical artifacts are on display, and are perhaps the main attraction for visitors, they do not offer a source of interaction. Is it really more authentic to provide a static artifact over a dynamic digital artifact? This is one of the questions I hope to address moving forward with my CHI research project.

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