The city of Utrecht has, as many Dutch cities and regions, a rich and well-documented history. There is a huge mountain of data of all sorts of events taking place in or around the city. And by mountain of data you can take that quite literal. If you would make a stack of all the documents it would form a pile higher then the Mont Blanc, with its 4811 meters the highest mountain of Europe. The preservation of these huge collections is a complex task, and making it easily accessible is even harder. Making it all something that a non-professional audience can experience in a fun way seems like an almost impossible task.
One of the mayor historical events taking place in Utrecht is the Treaty of Utrecht. Although it’s a well-documented event it is not very well known among a general audience. But that’s about to change: a wide variety of events will take place in 2013 in the city of Utrecht celebrating the 300th anniversary of the treaty. There will be real-live events like music festivals, educational programs, literature, community art, scientific programs, websites, mobile applications, a city book and much, much more. If you’re not sure what exactly this treaty is all about (you’re not alone: even the most inhabitants of Utrecht don’t know) here’s a short video.
The Crossmedialab will be contributing to this program: in collaboration with Utrecht Interactive we will be developing and realizing concepts for mobile devices to bring historical data back to its original physical context. Off course I’m exited about starting this new program and the interesting questions that come along with it will be at least as interesting as the development itself.
As our students will be cooperating with students of the Humanities College there will be an interesting mix of Digital Communication and (Art) History students working on this project. They will be facing the same challenges as any archive or museum is facing at the moment and it is quite a big one:
How can we find a way to translate a huge amount of historic data to a rich experience for a general audience? Can we take the data outside the museum walls and place it back into the original physical environment? And can keep all the layers of complexity while aiming at a new target audience? And, last but not least, can we make it exciting and fun?
Our culture and history seems, at least to a certain audience, something not so exciting at all. Both “Mohammed” and “Henk and Ingrid” are not too interested as it’s got all the qualities that make it something to avoid if possible: it requires time, money and intellect to make sense of it all. And there’s no fun in it either. Luckily we found a quite effective way of dealing with this problem, we collected all the historical artifacts we could lay our hands on and put them in huge prestigiously designed storages. These storage places we call archives and museums, they can easily be recognized and avoided. So while museums have been quite successful in creating richer experiences inside their own spaces they still struggle to get more people to actually visit that space. New technology like the mobile platform opens up new opportunities for the whole cultural sector:
If Mohammad can’t go to the mountain, let the mountain come to Mohammad.