Small Scale, Big Impact: NYC Taxi Driver Oral History

The January/February issue of the Society of American Archivists’ Archival Outlook featured an interesting piece on the New York City Taxi Driver Oral History Project.  This oral history project was started in 2010 by Samantha Gibson and Margaret Fraser and aimed to record, document, and archive oral history interviews of NYC cab drivers.

Fraser notes that the opinions, experiences, and outlooks of taxi cab drivers are often missing from traditional historical records.  Currently seven full length oral histories and a collection of participant art are available online.   These collections are complemented by an online exhibit. The interviews look at issues such as discrimination, pay, health, crime, etc.  This project is interesting as its oral histories document an often neglect part of NYC history and efforts have been made to make these oral histories fully accessible.

What are some of your favourite oral history initiatives focusing on neglected areas of history? 

Photo credit: M N O’Donnell

Digital Exhibits: Display and Format Challenges

As part of a work project, I recently spent some time scrolling through a variety of digital exhibits created by heritage organizations.  My goal while looking at these online exhibits was to compile a list of functions and visual characteristics which comprise a ‘good’ online exhibit.   I’m not sure my efforts resulted in an ultimate list, but I did come a few digital exhibit techniques I liked and a lot I that found verging on horrible.

Common Online Exhibit Problems:

  • Poor flow of information and the user is left unsure of how to navigate information.
  • Way too much text.  Most curators often refrain from including an overload of text in a physical exhibit, but it seems like this practice is often ignored in digital exhibits. 
  • Overuse of flash or other elements which take a long time to load (even on highspeed).

Digital Exhibit Elements That Work:

  • Combining mediums and using the digital space to display video, audio, and photographic material from a collection. 
  • Facilitating hyperlinking to the online collection descriptions so users can learn more about an item. 
  • User choice is integrated into the design.  For example, the user is able to decide which part or items of the exhibit they wish to look at and in which order. 
  • Exhibit theme (colours, images, etc) allows the image to stand apart from the rest of the institution’s website.

What makes a good digital exhibit? What is your favourite virtual exhibit? 

Entirely Virtual: The Museum of Afghan Civilization


The Museum of Afghan Civilization is scheduled to make it’s debut in 2010. This museum is going to be completely virtual. Online exhibits are nothing new, but the idea of creating an online building to house these online exhibits is fairly novel.

The Museum of Afghan Civilization employed an architect, museum professionals, and artists, to design and assist in the creation of the virtual museum. Users will be presented with the museum against it’s virtual background the Bamiyan caves. Users will be able to view the ‘outside’ of the museum from all angles, in an attempt to make it more realistic.

The proposed interface of the museum is designed to emulate an actual museum visit. Various multimedia ‘pavilions’ will exist for users to explore. The pavilion’s interfaces will change based on which exhibits are being featured, similar to physical temporary exhibition spaces.

The virtual museum will feature images from various existing institutions, including MOMA and the Louvre. The museum also plans on featuring images of works which have been destroyed or disappeared in recent years. There is also thoughts of eventually asking Afghan citizens for contributions of photos of their own culture.

There is hope that eventually a physical version museum of Afghan culture will exist. In face of the current instability of the area, this virtual museum allows for Afghanistan’s culture to be displayed without placing physical objects in danger.

I am looking forward to seeing the finished product of this venture, and feel that it is yet another step toward the further integration of technology and heritage. The notion of an entirely virtual museum also leaves me with the question: Are physical exhibit spaces necessary to call something a museum? The name of this virtual institution the “Museum of Afghan Civilization” suggests otherwise.