Digital media is becoming ever more prevalent in museums and in archaeology. The benefits of digital media are clear for accessibility and conservation. However, the impact of digital material on perceptions of material culture and whether digital material really does appeal to all, has yet to be explored. The research project Through a Glass Darkly posed some of these questions and accessed how participants responded to different types of interpretation, including digital media through a number of focus groups.

Research was conducted with 95 participants over the course of two months in 9 small focus groups. A range individuals participated and the audience was diverse, although there is scope for further focus groups to be run. Groups included the Town Archaeology Society, the museums own Young Archaeologist club, University Societies (Archaeology and Classics), to taught classes (Museum and Gallery Studies students and Social Anthropology), members of the public, museum professionals and an out of school club.

The structure of the focus groups remained the same for most sessions. The order of activities was varied on two occasions to see how the structure of the session affected the groups’ perceptions of an object. The sessions usually started with an exploration of the display case, then the handling box with replicas, the digital reproductions and ending with hands on experience of original material. The core items used during through these different interpretation methods remained the same each time, including a perfume bottle, an oil lamp and a spindle. Additional objects were handled in the final activity depending on the groups’ or individuals interest.

MGS focus group 2

Initially it had been intended that participants would fill in a questionnaire. However, it was found that discussion and ideas flowed more naturally verbally. Hence, the decision was made to collect the data qualitatively. Qualitative notes were taken by two members of the project team with a non-note taker leading the session. The notes were be collated together following the session. The online survey exploring the digital renderings remained unchanged. Take a look at the survey here.

All the focus groups provided varied discussion, but with strong points of agreement as well as divergence. Participants seemed to enjoy the experience of the focus groups and the ideas it sparked and encouraged. Unanimously, participants agreed that they enjoyed and gained most from handling the original material.

So what does this mean for digital media? The findings of the project and the implications for museum practice will be explored on this blog over the coming months!

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