Defining the Virtual Museum in the 21st century – a community challenge

Professional Forum
Susan Hazan, Israel

The term “virtual museum” has become as ubiquitous as to rend it almost redundant.  While for most the term “museum” is synonym with a “house of collections”, a “virtual museum” is still pretty nebulous.  Many associate a physical museum as a location of art – (paintings or sculptures) – having a vague notion of their multi-functions of curatorship, preservation, education, etc.  Fewer still have heard about museology or museography and probably won’t be aware that museums are engaged in research and pedagogy.  Based on this lack of clarity, if we were to ask someone to describe a “virtual museum” they would probably associate the generic idea of ‘museum’ with the term ‘virtual’, coming up with an ‘almost museum’, an ‘imaginary museum’, or a “computer generated museum”.

2011 saw the launch of an ambitious, four-year research project, V-Must (www.v-must.net), funded by the European Commission.  V-Must aims to formalize the term ‘virtual museum’ by setting up the theoretical platform upon which to build the conceptual framework for virtual museums.  Taking on a broad, focused agenda, the project embraces disciplines that include innovative digital technologies, educational and pedagogical aspects, as well as socio-economic aspects of virtual museum.

The V-Must agenda is ambitious; coming to grips with the imprecision of the ’virtual museum’ in academia and the public mind, it examines how the virtual museum amplifies and interfaces with the physical museum.  V-Must identifies categories of virtual museums, and sets out their multi-faceted characteristics. It describes the narratives being spun and their ways in which specific topics are targeted to specific audiences, across various media. The project identifies digital technologies implemented in virtual museums, through presenting a range of case studies and outlining best practice in the cultural heritage sector.

Practical implications of the virtual museum focus on digital infrastructure for the creation, archiving, and re-use of digital content related to virtual museums; the definition of sustainability models for virtual museums (e.g. overcoming technological dependence); and, not the least the enhancement of visitors experience, in terms of edutainment, entertainment and education.

This professional forum is in essence a call to our community to seek new partnerships and contributions to develop the theoretic platform together. Over the upcoming months, V-Must looks forward to expanding the network to listen, and learn from colleagues around the world and to act as a platform to bring together museum professionals who may wish to contribute their knowledge, experience and learned practice that defines the virtual museum.

Dr. Susan Hazan, The New Media Unit, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Dr. Sorin Hermon, Science and Technology for Archaeological Research Center, The Cyprus Institute, Cyprus