27.01.2023 | 5 minutes reading time
A constantly growing selection of digital collection objects of the Museum für Naturkunde is freely accessible to all interested parties in the data portal. What creative or experimental possibilities arise from this offer and what might example projects look like? Together with nine international Master’s students from the ifs Internationale Filmschule Köln, we explored this question. For the first time the data portal became part of a curriculum at a higher education institution.
Since 2017, the team of the
The cooperation was particularly valuable for the Mediasphere team, as it gave us feedback on the handling of the data portal from a creatively oriented institution. We also see it as a benefit that the Master’s program is an internationally oriented course. For example, students enrolled in the current program come from Tanzania, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, India, Iran, Romania, Russia, Belgium and Egypt/Canada. Projects with participants from all over the world offer the opportunity to demonstrate a differentiated view onto our digital collection objects and thus provide fresh impulses.
Lena Thiele, Professor of Digital Narratives - Art & Design, approached the Mediasphere team in spring 2021 with the idea of cooperating within the framework of the Master’s program “Digital Narratives”. We already knew Lena in her role as author and creative director of the Berlin media company
A central focus of the current cooperation was to enable the students to engage innovatively at the interface of science, storytelling and digital technologies. Using the extensive data portal, the students were able to explore the creative potential of scientific data and thus develop narrative concepts and prototypes with the help of digital technologies, for example. The lecturers decided to focus on two datasets from the data portal as part of the cooperation: around 10,000 high-resolution scans of insect drawers and around 3,000 historical sketches and drawings of microscopic organisms by the researcher Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg.
A visit of the students to the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin at the beginning of October 2022 was the starting point of the Production Exercise. During a 2-day workshop at the museum, the students had the opportunity to receive subject-related information on the respective datasets from scientists and experts. Behind-the-scenes tours of the collection and digitization areas were as much a part of the workshop as a highlight tour of the museum’s exhibition spaces or discussion rounds and Q&A sessions.
Our digitization expert Bernhard Schurian and the Head of the Collection Digitization Department Dr Frederik Berger provided expert knowledge on the dataset “insect drawers”. In the hall of the “
Afterwards, we went to the Lepidoptera Collection (butterflies), which is otherwise closed to visitors. There, Bernhard presented some highlights of the collection and gave general information about the storage in collection drawers.
Frederik Berger first provided a general introduction to the museum’s collection discovery and development before presenting the DISC3D scanner to the students. This scanner is used to create digital 3D models of insects.
Dr David Lazarus welcomed the students to the micropalaeontology collection. There, they were given the opportunity to view some of Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg’s original historical drawings.
In addition to a short introduction to the topic of micropalaeontology, David also provided background information about the researcher Ehrenberg himself and the importance of his historical collection. Moreover, the students had the opportunity to look at some microorganisms from the collection under the microscope.
The provided highlight lectures, behind-the-scenes tours and the haptic experience of parts of the museum collection was considered a great enrichment. The on-site visit enabled the students to develop a direct and emotional connection to the datasets of an otherwise only digitally accessible data portal.
If I had to summarize: child-like wonder. [The] Backstage tour of the museum. Made me feel like a kid.
After two days of workshops, the group returned to Cologne with numerous impressions in tow. In three teams of three students each, the next phase was to find ideas and develop prototypes. The task was to create a tangible prototype for a project idea based on the two data sets presented. This phase was accompanied by testing new technologies and input sessions with experts. Part of this was, e.g., a lecture on UX and Audience Centered Design with Markus Santner, which was tailored to the goals of the Production Exercise. Concepts such as immersion, interaction and virtual reality were also presented. Apart from the use of the museum datasets, there was complete freedom for the students in terms of project type and prototype design.
In order to advance the idea and project generation, different exercises were carried out, e.g. rapid (paper) prototyping without technology. Here, ideas were transformed into vivid and tangible models in a short time with the help of materials such as cardboard or fabrics and discussed in feedback sessions. Different technologies and forms of presentation were also tested, e.g. virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 360°, linear videos, audio and interactive performances, interactive videos or social media projects.
Only three working days were available for the transformation of the paper/cardboard models into technically functioning prototypes. In the implementation phase, the three teams each decided to use different technologies for their prototypes. In addition to a VR project, a tactile audiovisual installation and an interactive projection were created.
At the end of the three-week production exercise, all three projects were presented in a hybrid online presentation. The students, professors, lecturers and other representatives of the film school were present on site in Cologne. Seven representatives of the Museum für Naturkunde joined in online from Berlin. As already decided at the beginning of the project phase, the projects were deliberately presented as “work in progress” and not as finished products.
The students Gwamaka Mwabuka, Stefania Matache and Zubair Ashraf were inspired by the dataset “
Daniel Bangura, Pratima Pal and Samar Nahas based their project on the “
The team around Laurien Michiels, Media Haqshenas and Pavel Sitnikov presented the prototype for a tactile audiovisual installation. Inspired by the Mediasphere project “
More detailed information on the individual projects as well as a selection of short video clips with project presentations can be read on the
The implementation of the cooperation with the ifs “Digital Narratives” program supports the goals of the MfN Future Plan and the Mediasphere For Nature Lab in several ways. On the one hand, it demonstrates the diverse possibilities offered by the digitization of collection objects and thus provides fresh impulses and alternative perspectives on the collection. On the other hand, the cooperation allows for a targeted focus on storytelling with digital media from the MfN. The ifs lecturers' many years of thematic experience with both institutional and non-institutional projects is particularly helpful here. Through easily accessible storytelling formats, the digital collection can find access to a wider public and thus appeal to additional target and interest groups.
After the successful completion of the Production Exercise, both sides are aiming to continue the cooperation and work together with upcoming classes of the “Digital Narratives” Master’s program. The constantly growing number of datasets in the data portal also offers future students an exciting and varied exploration of the creative potential of our digital media. And we are already looking forward to new, experimental and exciting project ideas.
But first we plan to enable the current “Digital Narratives” cohort to present their projects to the public as part of a Mediasphere Meetup in spring 2023. Afterwards, they will have the opportunity to exchange ideas with our innovation network. We will keep you informed!