One of the tasks we asked our #citizencurators to perform during the project was to nominate an object of the day via Twitter that reflected their London Olympic experience. At the end of the project each person chose one object to nominate to the Museum curators. The good news is that some of the objects have been taken up by the curators and will complement the Museum’s collection of 1908 and 1948 Olympic objects as well as those collected by the Museum in 2012.
Copyright Futura Publications; published 1948
Choosing and selecting objects to be entered into the Museum collection may seem like a dark art to those not versed in museum rationale. One aim of this project was to see if Twitter could provide another way for members of the public to have a say in what objects reflected their experiences during the games. We also wondered if Tweets could capture more information about objects’ provenance, use or story. When we introduced this side of the project to the team their reaction was interesting. Some questioned the extent to which they were genuinely being asked to think about what the Museum collects. While other people found the process of thinking about objects that represent experiences a new challenge to explore.
Once the short-list had been drawn up I quickly sent the Tweet images to the curators for their comments. [Just as an aside: I'm going to write a separate post about @Brixtonite's objects as some of those presented interesting ways to think about collecting the Olympics digitally]
Beverley Cook looks after the Museum’s ephemera collection. What is a collection of ephemera I hear you cry? Well we think of ephemera as paper items that were meant to be thrown away or not intended to survive. The Museum’s ephemera collection includes valentine cards, all sorts of advertisements and even carrier bags. So @LollyGee’s “tear soaked complimentary train ticket”, @deedeesvintage Hackney Wick newspaper and Olympic Delivery Authority planning notice were directed towards Beverley to consider.
Beverley’s first reaction flagged up the issue of using Twitter; the lack of being able to get a sense of the objects up close:
“It’s a bit tricky to comment on some of the objects without seeing them as we don’t usually acquire anything without having a chance to physically ‘examine’ them as it were. This is partly to assess their potential for display and research but also to assess their physical condition.”
However, the Hackney Wick newspaper was a straightforward no. The reason being that local newspapers are collected by the borough libraries and archives.
The complimentary train ticket on the other hand presented an interesting story whereby a Londoner’s usual journey was curtailed by specific transport restrictions for the Olympics. Since the ticket was issued early on in the Olympics when there was still a fear that travelling would be a nightmare and does not look like any old ticket, Beverley felt this reflected the impact of the Olympics and told a nice story. @LollyGee’s Tweets about the scenario make a nice context to the physical object. Beverley has reserved judgement on the ODA planning notice until she can see how big it is.
The Museum’s Senior Curator of Fashion, Beatrice Behlen had the tough job of considering the Union Jack wellies, @clairedavis’ Union Jack hijab, and @realnickperry’s suggestion of the Gamesmaker uniform. It is nice to know that @realnickperry and Beatrice are on the same wavelength. Of course the ubiquity of the Gamesmaker uniform across London and the role of the volunteers could not be missed. Beatrice was able to confirm that the Museum has already been offered a Gamesmaker uniform that was worn on offical Olympic duty. As for the wellies and hijab Beatrice explained that “We only rarely acquire items straight from the store [shop], as it were. I much prefer objects that have actually been worn/used.” The personal story behind objects is a strong case and certainly makes for compelling interpretation. The fact that neither the wellies or the hijab were worn or have a personal story attached to them makes it difficult to justify collecting them. On the other hand the presence of the Union Jack throughout the Games and the way it was embraced by the public may be a bigger narrative about the UK’s 2012 story (on the back of the Jubilee) and not necessarily just an Olympic tale. And the wellies reflect the horrendous weather prior to the Olympics when this traditional country attire made it’s presence known on the London high street. Beatrice is thinking about this.
Julia Hoffbrand, Curator of Social and Working History, expressed an interest in @digitalmarje’s mug-stained-Olympic-rings-tea-towel as it highlighted the branding restrictions of the Games. The citizencurators were really captivated by the various ways small businesses were managing this and Julia certainly feels that circumvention of the branding restrictions is an important story to tell.
So to recap…. the tear stained complimentary train ticket has gone through to the next level; the ODA planning notice might yet make it; and the Gamesmaker uniform is a must. The tea-towel unfortunately was not purchased at the time and was gone when @digitalmarje went back.
And? What did we learn? One of Westminster’ questions was to unpick whether social networking could inform the Museum’s traditional ways of collecting. And in a way we did achieve this by adding a few more physical objects to the Museum’s collection. However, the same curatorial questions were raised and Twitter almost acted like a barrier to the physical objects. As the project evolved physical objects became less and less the focus of our concern. Twitter is a really unwieldy and nebulous platform to co-ordinate tasks based on physical objects and the immediacy of the platform was difficult to manage. The story told by the Tweets, on the other hand, captures a snapshot and moment in time as Londoners reacted to what they were experiencing, witnessing and thinking about the London Olympics. What we didn’t predict was the value in the images and accompanying contextualising text in the Tweets. These reveal the real value in capturing Tweets around an event like the Olympics.