The UMAC 2002 Conference was held in Sydney and Canberra in Australia from Sunday 29 September - Friday 4 October 2002.
The title and theme of the conference was: Exposing and Exploiting the Distinct Character of University Museums and Collections.
A Renaissance of German University Collections
|General University History||7|
|Special Aspects of the University History||3|
|University Detention Cells||3|
The category Art & Humanities is represented by 120 collections (or 38%), among them 50 archaeological collections, 26 of which are of classical antiquities.
|Archaeology [Prehistorical, Egyptian, Sudan & Orient, Classical Antiquity (including plaster casts), Christian Archaeology]||50|
|Museum Dedicated as a Memorial||1|
The category Sciences & Technology contains 146 collections (or 46%), the most represented subjects of which are Geology/Mineralogy (40) and Botany (35), followed by Zoology (15) and Engineering (14).
|Animal Sound Archive||1|
|Botany (Botanical Garden, Arboretum, Aroma Garden, Herbarium, Botanical Museum, Special Aspects of Botany)||35|
|Agriculture & Forestry||4|
|Geology & Mineralogy||40|
|Computer Science & Technology||3|
|Museum Dedicated as a Memorial||2|
The number of medical collections at 39 (or 12%) is comparatively small, with 10 in the field of Medical History and 11 in the field of Anatomy & Pathology. Apart from medical history museums, most of the medical collections, in contrast to geological, mineralogical, botanical or archaeological collections, are usually not accessible to the public. Many departmental medical collections are privy to only a few insiders. Therefore, the following overview is far from reflecting the actual number.
|Medical & Pharmaceutical History||10|
|Anatomy & Pathology||11|
|Anthropology & Osteology||5|
|Special Aspects of Veterinary Medicine||2|
|Museum Dedicated as a Memorial||1|
Web-based sources usually don't provide the following information on the use of collections. Is the collection primarily used for teaching and research or as a display collection for the general public? Is it a specialized collection only for experts, or is the collection simply in storage? The next step will be therefore a focused questionnaire on the use of the collection, which will be sent directly to the people who are managing them.
Access to the collections is another important factor. At least 226 of the 318 listed collections, or just 71%, are accessible. Only 131 of these collections have regular opening hours, 75 can be visited by appointment and an unknown number exhibit in public venues only.
|collections with regular opening hours||131|
|collections visited by appointment only||55|
|collection visits by appointment allowed for scientific purposes only||20|
|collections exhibited in public venues only||11|
|collections partially accessible to the public||4|
|collections temporarily not accessible to the public||5|
|collections not accessible to the public||12|
|collections whose state of accessibility is uncertain (for teaching or research purposes or in public areas only)||80|
Novel ways to access collections
The application of the new media provides novel ways to access collections as resources for research and teaching worldwide. These applications encompass the presentation, publishing and management of digitized content in various electronic formats. Simply putting basic information on a Web page already makes its existence globally accessible. If a database with text-, picture-, video- and sound-files is developed, it can be used locally, by intranet or via the Internet. With the designing of a virtual museum a visit can be offered independent of time and place. Finally, the design of interactive pages with special contents can be an effective way to transfer knowledge.
As reported above, in Germany a renaissance of university collections has taken place in the last few years, and this renaissance can be directly traced to the application of the new media. Presentation and access are now independent of the extent of support provided by the university, its budget and staff, the state of the collection, and the place and time. We are all aware that viewing digitized items is no substitute for glassed-in showcases, but the new media provide important tools covering other kinds of information, convey this information to new target groups, and utilize a wider range of resources. Through the new media we can attract the attention that we need to promote our collections and provide a reliable basis for further projects.
Today the simplest way of reaching the public is through the use of the Internet. Web sites impose virtually no constraints of size or content and there is no trade-off between popularized displays attracting the laymen and the academic sections catering to the professional. Moreover, an endless number of links can lead to related sites and supplemental information.
Our analysis of the German university collections shows that many of them, currently 216 (or 68%), are already utilizing the web for their purposes. Respectively, 19 museums have a page with basic information in order to enable a first contact, 138 have a description that gives a first impression of the collection, 31 provide a virtual tour through a digital museum and 10 contain a catalogue or a database providing further information. 18 university museums have even created separate homepages with special offers and services. When this survey was compiled 102 collections were still not accessible by the web.
The self-portraits of universities on the web illustrate the changing role of university collections in Germany. The homepage of the University of Bonn, for example, presents under the heading "The University" the directory "Museums and Scientific Collections" (www.uni-bonn.de/Die-Universitaet/Museen.html). In this case each visitor of the homepage can learn something about the "hidden treasures" of the university and is not encumbered by an awkward search on the Web pages of numerous institutes.
Assembling and displaying hidden, dispersed or heterogeneous collections in a digital museum provides a great convenience for university collections. Application of the new media allows showing rare and perishable ancient objects, the virtual simulation of the functions of old machines and the performance of experiments with scientific instruments. Databases of digital objects support research and teaching. Standardized formats and simple interfaces allow users from every country in the world to find and display information without significant investment in hardware, software or training. Thus, the usage of the new media enables university collections to disseminate knowledge more effectively than by the displaying of exhibits in the traditional way.
Examining the university collections' Web sites reveals a variety of appealing and useful pages for different target groups. A real "pleasures for both eyes and ears" for example is offered by the Museum of Musical Instruments at the University of Leipzig (http://www.uni-leipzig.de/museum/musik/start.htm). Another exemplary page comes from the computer science collection at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (http://www.iser.uni-erlangen.de/iser/schickard/index.html). This Web site presents a reconstruction and simulation of the calculating machine of Wilhelm Schickard from 1623, with which the visitor can try to solve arithmetical problems. Ten university collections even have put object databases or catalogues on the web, which can be used for research. An example of this is the collection of the Archaeological Museum at the University of Halle-Wittenberg (http://robertin.altertum.uni-halle.de/astart.html). There are also many text-based pages with various essays and some truly wonderful tours through digital collections. A few universities are even selling replicas of their tours per Internet.
Fundamental to the international exchange of knowledge is the language of presentation. Although in Germany one can perceive that little by little universities are beginning to provide an English translation of their main Web sites, there are still only a small number of English language pages, at present 18, about the collections available. One might conclude that the people in charge of disseminating information consider the sometimes specialized areas of academic issues as not being of enough general importance. But this impression is wrong, as can be seen by international efforts in developing databases for academic matters, for example in the case of BioCase, a "Biological Collection Access Service for Europe". Such initiatives will, in the long run, guarantee the desired impact on the academic world.
A new role in university teaching
In today's world, and above all at the universities, competence in media techniques and applications is much in demand. Past experiences have shown that students often do not have sufficient media competence. Without further training they will not be able to prepare and present their results in multimedia. In response to the rapidly growing utilization of digital multimedia applications, the imparting of media competence would be a unique chance for the collections to play a novel and important role in teaching programs. A collection is a good place in the university for learning digital photography and digital video. The German ministry of education and research is currently supporting initiatives introducing the new media and the raising of competence in multimedia. This has allowed me to offer a student course entitled "The Application of the New Media in Opening Up and Presenting Collections". For me it is an exciting experiment and I look forward to presenting some of my experiences during the next UMAC conference.
1 Sammlungen und Kunstbesitz der Technischen Universität Dresden (Dresden, 1996); "Ganz für das Studium angelegt". Die Museen, Sammlungen und Gärten der Universität Göttingen (Göttingen, 2001); Kulturbesitz und Sammlungen der Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald (Greifswald, 1995); Museen der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster (Münster, 1993).
2 Cornelia Weber, "From independent university collections to a 'Wissenstheater': an ambitious project at the Humboldt University of Berlin", in Museologia 2, 2002, pp. 81-88.
3 The exhibitions were in Halle: "Emporium. 500 Jahre Universität Halle-Wittenberg. Landesausstellung Sachsen-Anhalt", 2002; and in Berlin: "Theatrum naturae et artis. Wunderkammern des Wissens", 2000/01.
4 This according to Dr. Torsten Speler, curator at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.
5 This according to Dr. Dieter Speck, archivist at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg.
6 Weber, pp. 81-88.
7 Information from the Web site of the Archaeological Collection.
8 MYSQL, open source
9 Web front end in php
10 Because archives and collections of rare books and manuscripts are usually accessible in libraries they were excluded from the database.
11 To compare collections on an international basis a glossary in English will be essential.
12 The former universities of Altdorf and Helmstedt.
Copyright © Cornelia Weber 2002.
All rights reserved.
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