Video as an Online Exhibition Tool at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

For this blog post I chose to focus on the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s online exhibit “A Friend Acting Strangely” about climate change in the Arctic. The exhibit title takes its name from the Inuit word uggianaqtuq – generally used to describe strange, unexpected behavior, like a friend acting strangely.

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The exhibit contains general information about the Arctic Circle and scientific explanations of how climate change happens. A personal favorite feature of mine was an interactive module that allowed the user to explore the consequences of mosquito activity level and snow depth on the herd size of caribou.

caribou

Deeper snow + increased mosquito activity = less caribou

However, the most compelling part of the exhibit was the “Eyewitnesses” section. This part of the exhibit contained testimony from researchers and residents of the Arctic about the changes they have seen in their environment. A short, 6 minute documentary called “Eyewitness”examines the ways residents of Sachs Harbor, Canada, experience climate change. The indigenous community of Sachs Harbor comment on how the effects of sea ice shrinking, thawing and erosion, and the migration of animal herds have dramatically changed life for the residents. The documentary focuses on the “oral climate record” of the indigenous people that live in the Arctic. “Long ago, in my childhood, we followed the seasons and the weather. Even the animals, the caribou followed the weather. Now there are hardly any caribou on the island. Life has become unpredictable for all of us,” said one Sachs Harbor resident.

documentary

While the interface was butt ugly, the technology worked and the documentary was essential to bringing together the components of the exhibit in a cohesive manner.

I found this exhibit to be quite good, though a little clunkily designed. The exhibit has a lot of components, and it was easy to become confused when navigating. The documentary was easily the star of the exhibit, bringing together the scientific information and eyewitness accounts of climate change together in a cohesive way. In fact, without the documentary, I doubt this exhibit would have made as much sense. If this was a physical exhibit, I could see showing this documentary in the beginning being a useful way to orient visitors and prepare them for more in-depth information in the rest of the exhibit.

 

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