social interpretation at the Imperial War Museums


The final project report can be found here.

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) is a national museum whose aim is to enrich people’s understanding of the causes, course and consequences of modern war. Based across five branches their mission is to enable people to have informed understandings of modern war and its impact on individuals and society.

This was a 12-month collaborative research project conducted by the University of Salford and MTM into IWM’s development and implementation of the Social Interpretation (SI) project at two of its branches: IWM London, and IWM North in Manchester. Working with its technical partners Knowledge Integration (KI), Gooii, and The Centre for Digital Humanities, University College London (UCL), IWM’s aim was to apply social media models to the interpretation of museum collections to provide new frameworks for audience engagement and ‘social interpretation’. In the project IWM defined social Interpretation as the representation of, discussions about, and the sharing of, their objects by audiences. The idea was to enable this social interpretation across all of the IWM digital platforms and outputs, in-gallery, on-mobile and on-line, in order to encourage and facilitate the type of social interaction that is more usually associated with social media, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The SI project aimed to use social media models, that is to say the ability to like, comment, discuss, collect, and share things on and across digital platforms. The aspiration was to create a service that encouraged audiences to respond to IWM’s themes and collections through several forms of digital interaction and participation both in the gallery and via mobile and online platforms.

Specifically, the SI project explored whether:

  • Applying social media models to cultural collections has the potential to increase audience engagement and reach;
  • Social moderation is an effective response to the challenges posed by representing public comment and discussions in physical and digital cultural spaces.
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