I like Creative Spaces

Creative Spaces does. No poking, no sheep throwing, no nonsense.

The two posts below and the several comments are enough to set out the different views of Creative Spaces, or the National Museums Online Learning Project. I am not going to respond to the various criticisms leveled at the project as they do a good job of speaking for themselves. This is about my experience so far, over the last two weeks or so of actually using the site. Many of the buggy features have already been pointed out by Tom and by and large I agree with those (strange URLs and registering procedure, the lack of a big fat button to JOIN and the lack of an advanced search are probably my immediate problems).

.What have I created?

My first Group is the Medieval and Byzantine Objects group. It currently has four members including myself and the premise behind it is to build up a network of people, collections and objects who take an interest in medieval and byzantine artefacts and the history they can provide. My next plan with it is to begin commenting on objects in the group and inviting dialogue with others, whoever they may be.

My first Notebook is the Travels around Italy notebook. Another passion of mine, both personal and professional, I wanted to find out how widely ‘Italy’ existed across the 9 collections represented in Creative Spaces so far. So many of our national museums’ foundation collections derived from world exploration and also the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries that I wonder how much our feelings and attitudes towards Italy and Italians have been conditioned by this aspect of British history. Indeed, it was the subject of my MA dissertation, and there remains a lot of work to be done on how early collecting, particularly deriving from Italy, have shaped British museums. As well as adding images and descriptions of objects to my notebook, I have also added a link to my flickr collection of photographs of my travels in Italy, and a blog post (‘note’) about what ideas we have about travel in Italy, including the stories that are brought back.

My second Notebook is called The Corrupting Sea notebook, inspired by the modern classic study of pre-modern Mediterranean history by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea. A Study of Mediterranean History, (Oxford, 2000, pbk 2005). This is my ‘play-thing’ notebook. I want to be able to act out some of my ideas about the significance of the Mediterranean as a state of mind, an ideology, a way of breaking down unnecessary barriers. Much of this has been inspired by my own research on a comparative history of medieval southern Italy as well as the work by Horden and Purcell, Fernand Braudel and other scholars who have used the Mediterranean rather than political or national boundaries to frame their work. I would very much like anyone with a feel for the Mediterranean to contribute to this notebook, whether from the point of view as tourist, sun-seeker, scholar, curator or scientist.

.Why I like Creative Spaces

Everything that I have described above, I have wanted to do for ages. I have thought about setting up different blogs, forums or utilising existing networks such as facebook or flickr but none of these options enabled me to have the direct contact with collections that I craved. Granted I am a specialist in museum collections and how they are documented and interpreted, but that does not make me any less of a user than someone simply interested in finding out more, and wanting to talk about something they are interested in, whether over a long period of time, or just as a one-off. None of them provided a good space in which I could also get in touch with like-minded people.

Creative Spaces does. No poking, no sheep throwing, no nonsense.

I didn’t actually know I wanted something like Creative Spaces until it was announced. I had a sense of the immense value many people hold in being able to understand museum collections across the boundaries of institutions from my own work on a digitisation project (Hantsphere) which formed part of a small network of other sites (Sense of Place South East) with online collections. It was this that excited the ‘silver surfers’ I trained in basic web skills the most.

The current limitations and gaps notwithstanding, the design is clean, suited to the content and makes me want to come back on a regular basis. A simple bookmark in my browser’s toolbar allows to me login without any extraneous effort and I intend to do so.

.What will I do with Creative Spaces?

Apart from my own personal interest, learning and amusement, I would use Creative Spaces for teaching projects (particularly for distance learners), for creating networks of enthusiasts and academics in areas which are not served well by existing groups and societies and to follow up museum visits. Granted, only a minute proportion of collections from these institutions are represented here but as their documentation and digitisation projects continue, this can only improve. Similarly, I should very much like to see other museums examine their collections management databases and see if they too could one day participate. There is no room for exclusivity here.

.Why it has come at the right time

Because, for all the hot air often expelled by my cultural technologist colleagues (including myself at times) something’s finally happened, Reg.