New Commission: International Slavery Museum

Photo of the 3D prints and postcards that make up the collection
The Transatlantic Slavery and Its Contemporary Significance Collection

We’ve been busy working on many exciting commissions recently and plan to share a few more detailed insights into these over the coming weeks.

One such commission is with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, a collection we produced along with staff at the museum that explores transatlantic slavery, and its contemporary significance. 

The collection consists of two 3D models and seven postcards and encompasses a range of artefacts from the museum’s collection.  These include objects that would have been touched by African slaves, street signs connecting Liverpool to the slave trade, and contemporary art pieces.

Photo of lighting rig and sculpture being scanned
Our rig for doing 3D photogrammetric capture

After settling on an object list, Charlie travelled up to the museum to 3D scan the two objects that were to be 3D printed. These were the Olaudah Equiano sculpture – a brilliant sculpture of writer, abolitionist and a former enslaved African, Olaudah Equiano by sculptor Christy Symington, and a Bamana mask – a type of mask used in Bamana culture used in traditional initiation societies in order to pass into adulthood. We printed them out in some brilliant bright yellow PLA, and were glad that so much detail of the original, including the shape of Africa on Olaudah’s back, broken shackles, and an enslaved female figure from the Brookes slave ship diagram were all visible on the print!

A photograph of the 3D printed bust of Equiano

The audio in the collection incorporates narration from staff members including education demonstrators, curators, volunteers, and youth ambassadors. It’s great to hear such a variety of expert voices talk about the objects in such depth. Here’s a sample of one object in the collection, a ‘Talking Drum’, described by Yaz, one of the museum’s education demonstrators:

Drum, 20th Century, Akan, Ghana
‘The Talking Drum’

An important distinction the collection highlights is the range of material held at the museum. This includes not only original objects but contemporary artworks too such as the Olaudah Equiano sculpture and The Cockle Pickers’ Tea Service.

‘Made in 2007 to commemorate 200 years since Britain enacted a law to outlaw the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The artwork references the original African victims, whilst also remembering twenty-one Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay Lancashire in 2004. These people were contemporary slaves. A reminder that the slave trade is still alive in the twenty first century.’

Paul Scott’s ‘Cumbrian Blue(s), The Cockle Pickers’ Tea Service’ (2007)

We’re chuffed with how the set neatly encapsulate the museum’s broad collection, and that the box will be used to help increase awareness and understanding of the important stories it has to tell.

We can’t wait to hear how they get on with the box in the coming months!

Quick jot of all the things happening!

We have SO MUCH to tell you. We’re very busy! It’s great! I’ll try to write more to tell you what we’re up to over the summer… Short version:

Our Make Your Own pilot is going strong – it’s taken a little longer than we’d first planned on, but that’s been useful information to take on; that a) it’s not easy or quick to curate a great collection, and b) fitting that in to already busy lives is challenging. But, we have had some brilliant collections come in, like Freakishly Frightening Fungi from Heather in Tasmania (a personal fave), and look at this amazing Ahora hablamos nosotras exhibition built by the pilots at Salnés Campus in Spain! (Read their great blog post about it.)

We’re finishing up four new commissions:

  • Amagugu Ethu (Our Treasures): Charlie and I visited Cape Town with academics, Laura Gibson (King’s College) and Hannah Turner (University of Leicester). Laura, in particular, has been studying the effects of colonisation on communities and museum collections in South Africa, and we were there to participate in a brilliant workshop with KwaZulu-Natal folks Laura had invited into the Iziko Museums to provide new descriptions of objects there.
    Laura, George and Thandi atop Table Mountain!

    There’ll be a Museum in a Box made to represent the workshop travelling back to KZN over the summer.

  • Transatlantic Slavery & Its Contemporary Significance, with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (UK): Working with the education team, we’ve developed a Collection to represent key elements of the gallery space, showcasing objects made by African slaves, Liverpool’s history, and contemporary artistic responses to slavery.

    3D model of a bust of Olaudah Equiano
    This is a 3D model we made of a bust of writer and abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano
  • Life & Work at the British Bata Shoe Company, with the Bata Heritage Centre (UK): We’ve had great fun working with writer, Samuel Bailey, and actors Jessica Carroll and Jamie Hinde to bring the East Tilbury Bata factory estate to life. The BHC will use their Box and Collections at local heritage events, and with local school children to help share their local history.
  • #livingwithhistory, A Helper for Dementia Sufferers and their Carers, with Monroe County History Center (USA): The MCHC engaged us to help design a pilot Collection to aid conversation in domestic and community spaces amongst folks suffering from dementia and the people who care for them. In a lovely, collaborative commission, we’ve combined original objects from their collections with photography from the 60s (from open cultural collections, including Flickr Commons, and from institutions like the US National Archives and Library of Congress) into a multi-dimensional set of cards and things to touch and listen to, hopefully stimulating conversation and reminiscence. This type of use of Museum in a Box is regularly suggested by people who try it, so we’re especially interested to see if this sort of collection is useful…
    Here’s a quick video I made of the Monroe County Collection before we post it over to them:

We’re also collaborating with two researchers at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Dr. Abi Glen and Dr. Jennifer Wexler, who were recently awarded Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Creative Economy Engagement fellowships. They are investigating how new interactive digital and physical experiences can attract and develop new audiences in the museum, and we’re happy to be one of the “innovative creative industry partners” who are joining in the fun! If you happen to be near Cambridge on June 3rd, I’ll be giving a short talk that day as part of the conference they’ve organised, called Do Not Touch? 3D in Museums. It’s already been really interesting to see how Dr Glen and Dr Wexler are exploring what Museum in a  Box might do at the University of Cambridge Museums!

All that, and we’re trying to figure out how to make 1,000 boxes. There are about 120 out and about all over the world now, which we’ve largely made by hand. But, we’re happy and a bit daunted that demand is well and truly exceeding supply (700 pre-orders?!?), so now working to meet that demand, including a visit to the amazing Protolabs, where we got to see their amazing injection moulding operation… they could make our boxes much stronger and more quickly, so we’re hoping that comes together! We’ve also entered their “Cool Ideas” competition, and hoping that might result in a subsidy for our first few batches… Wish us luck on that one!

Phew!

Museum in a Box on The Gadget Show!

Georgie from The Gadget Show and Adrian from DoES Liverpool (and Museum in a Box) doing a demo of Museum in a Box
Georgie from The Gadget Show and Adrian from DoES Liverpool (and Museum in a Box) doing a demo

Very excited to see the segment about Liverpool’s awesome maker space, DoES Liverpool, which our superstar hardware engineer, Adrian, co-founded in 2011.

We get a little mention on Episode 5 of Season 29 of The Gadget Show at about 38:50 in, and proud that Georgie mentioned that the prototype has “now become a full-blown commercial product”! Woo hoo!

Make Your Own: A Visual Essay

The last few months have been nuts, frankly. We’ve made 80 Boxes, and are sending about 40 of them to our Make Your Own Museum in a Box pilots, all over the world (every continent except Antartica!?!). We’ve upgraded the Box to V1.2 to incorporate a new amp/sound design, and a much less expensive RFID reader. That’s good.

I really liked what our amp-soldering helper, Thomas Butler, said back in November:

Getting into ‘mass’ hand manufacturing of amp boards for @_museuminabox @DoESLiverpool.

80 boxes is a lot. The most we’ve ever made or had. Now we even have inventory (but even that’s disappearing!). It’s great. Next step is to figure out how to make them even more quickly, and even more cost-effectively.

Thank You

  • The magnificent and thorough Thibaut Evrard, who did the lion’s share of construction
  • Irfan & Noufal at Hamon, who have coded up the web app our pilots will need to configure their collections & boxes
  • Tom Armitage, who designed our new Amp, nicknamed “Boomer”
  • Amy Haigh, who helped kick off the Make Your Own kit design process
  • Tom Butler, who soldered all Tom A’s amps in quick smart time
  • Takako Copeland, who made our lovely WiFi cards by hand at the London Centre for Book Arts
  • Paul Beech and the crew at Pimoroni who sold us lots of hardware, but also did tons of laser-cutting for us
  • The 30 or so suppliers on our bill of materials, and of course
  • Adrian McEwen and Charlie Cattel-Killick who continue to ride on this crazy horse to find out where she’s going.

 Making Boxes

Pilots Getting Started

The boxes are making their way out into the world now. We’d post more, but there’s only £19 in the account. (Not for long. It’ll be fine.)

“If the pilot was wildly successful, what might that look like for you?”

We’re doing an international user research pilot to trial our new version of Museum in a Box we’re calling “Make Your Own”. Our plan is to work towards having these kits for sale in time for Christmas 2019.

We have gathered 40 hardy groups from around the world to participate with us, and our first step was to interview all of them. We were lucky enough to meet some in person, and Skyped with everyone else. Here’s a map of where they all are:

Map of our 40 international pilots: schools, museums, cultural organisations, artists, home educators, libraries, and even a farm!
Map of our 40 international pilots: schools, museums, cultural organisations, artists, home educators, libraries, and even a farm!

It’s been exciting and informative to meet everyone. We’ve gathered all kinds of tidbits about their lives and work, and have particularly enjoyed hearing about how they would like to use Make Your Own to extend their own missions and work. We were particularly pleased that this group of 40 probably represents a pretty good cross-section of folks we hope will become customers (although anyone is welcome to buy one!).

We’ve used the same set of interview questions for everyone, and I’ve been most interested in the response to this one: If the pilot was wildly successful, what might this look like for you? I thought you might like to see what people say to that…

The Pilots’ Responses


If I have more students come and ask me about it, and come and ask me to participate. They’ll ask me about it. Initiating a conversation with me is a winner. If I speak to new students, that’s huge win. I’m 5 feet, most of them are taller than me.


Well, if we’re successful, that means like you’re successful… we’d make more connections with other pilots… we could get more resources from all over the world, we’d be pilots… You’d get more funding so everyone would benefit.

It just hopefully opens up the program so more people and schools can participate, so more schools and kids can benefit.

“You’ll need to appreciate art and music and the past and why you shouldn’t knock everything down.”


Seeing Museum in a Box in campuses and students create collections by themselves and spread them out


It will be a success, maybe if a student thinks we can do something bigger. Maybe we can make a big Museum in a Box! We can also present this to other schools around – there are about 20 small schools near us.


Anything successful would be being able to demonstrate learning, this is part of why I want to make a study to prove it. There are also a lot engagement  for the students for culture and everything. But the main reason for me is proving that it works.

It’s not just about if it works but more to show me that it demonstrably increases learning. If you do this then schools want it. Teachers listen to teachers and listen to research.


We would like to create something that would be able to see scale sustainably. Every single time we have a new museum collection, what could we put on Museum in a Box? I would love to see and understand the business model. Really about what we scale and what the students are going to create at the end.


People engaging with it during the market. Asking more questions, trying more cards. Having Laura (market master) want to take it and use it outside the market. Inspiring envy, obvs. If nobody is interested I will have failed.


That the box can create that kind of ongoing engagement (with young adults) that goes beyond the interaction with the box. We would like to see that after interacting with the box, there is some kind of ongoing engagement with the subject. Don’t know how to measure it yet. Maybe it’s an ongoing affiliation with the project. 40% of the visitors are repeat visitors.  Develop engagement/affiliation with MB and stay active and develop their own collection or pursue direct action with the artists. Can MB trigger that kind of interaction? Enable a deeper connection at large.


That I have played a role in this successful project. It’s a privilege to have helped. It would be a good reflection for me, and for my school.


I talked with the local museum, and they might be interested in purchasing it, and they’re really exciting about reproductions. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I love this open access tech, and helping people encounter the world in this way.

Success for MB would be repeatable programs/lessons.


People wanting the box everywhere!
I know a lot of art teachers around Portland. Would be good if our box could travel around the city, and have other teachers interested. Giving the students some pride at their collection. Sharing it will be the best.


It would be something I can present as a new way to experience sound and to interact with it. A new medium for sound. Knowing how it works and can be used in different context, could it be something people can have in their homes? Could it help people?


I don’t know! Just people enjoying the fungi collection all over the place. Getting excited about fungi.


I think that I don’t have to touch the box too much. It just wanders around, without me, and it doesn’t sit in my house… there’s demand to see it and use it. Potentially, a proliferation of Boxes or Collections.


The children would be able to find a way to learn and create their own experience that they can then share with their families.


I need to figure out how to put it in front of people. We frequently do prototype testing… I can imagine setting it up in one of the halls – see what the response is.

For me, I’m interested in seeing the ease of using the Box, the variety and richness of using it, how visitors respond to it. Would we do pop-ups or offer for sale in our gift shop. Can we offer to visitors to create their own? We’ve tried various citizen science projects… esp for the collections, it’s not just a bunch of stuff. They tell you things.


Success would be kids getting knowledge or study drive from Museum in a Box. if they can be inspired by the role models, it is already a win! Get them willing to stay involved and do more.


Would be around outcomes for the Young People’s Programme. They feel they’ve had ownership, developed understanding of collections and exhibition-making and digital side of things. Practical skills and comprehension of how galleries and museums work.

Internal conversation continuing about what we’d do around our collection.


We would want to find a way to keep the Box at the end, and send it out ourselves. I would want to be in a position where we can send it. Could be used by locals, or make connections all over the world. Maybe with other composers or other forms of music.


Success would be getting a lot of people interacting with the project and increasing the audience of the museum. being able to expand. getting more people involved in the creation and engagement with content. Getting the kids to want to be part of the project.


I don’t know how it will be successful, but it would be nice to build upon it, maybe a Katakana version (simplified). It’s quite a commercial, ready idea. Could be arty; more ambitious.


A tool that the audience would find useful. Also all the team of the museum to get ideas of how to use this box. How can we help people that collect stamps?


To make the pilot successful the pilot would need multiple people involved, as well as information sharing, to interest other programs to implement the box more widely in the system. I would love to see   a Museum in a Box project every semester in the class.


Get other teachers involved with my department. Like the art classes upstairs.


If people engage with the collection and find way to interact with it then it would be successful. Then, I can try to push the concept and pitch it to local indigenous libraries in order to try to help them experiment with Museum in a Box.


It’s about making sure the children realise why they’re doing something, and give them the opportunity to showcase what they’ve done. It’s key for children to share, too… it’s not just “Miss” at the front telling things, but the kids are making the stories…


It would give us a sense of pride, for working it, and it taking off. A sense of connection and achievement for being involved. The excitement of contributing to something that’s worked.


First of all, awesome. If it works, I wouldn’t mind using this tool in different museums, and have the tool in different museums to allow people to interact with it. Can we use it inside our projects/exhibitions? That would be a success, actually. Let’s see how this will be useful for us. I think it will. Maybe in the next year, if this works, let’s see how we can expand.


We’d like to make many more pilots, and disseminate music to as many spaces as we can. 

It will be really interesting to see how kids react, and develop something around that. It will also be interesting to teach the kids to figure out what to make. Maybe the kids could start making their own thing, about their places.


If it’s successful we would have a permanent display in each of the museums, and they would run programs and create new collections that would be on display.


How about that? SO MUCH FUN.

Today was one of those days at work I don’t want to forget

This morning over coffee at home, I wrote a personal tweet: “I wonder what will happen today.” I didn’t post it.

I got to work a bit before 10am. Our office hours are 10-6. Our first thing to do was an interview with Pat, a design/construction teacher at a high school in Liverpool. He’s one of our Make Your Own pilots, and it was a joy. We’re planning to talk with all 40 of them.

We have a script for these interviews, which Pat promptly diverted from. He explained his love of teaching, and that every child is a maker, and that when kids are able to teach other kids what’s going on you know they’ve really got it. He spun his phone around his classroom, and showed us what basically looked like his shed. In the best way. There’s a welder, 3D printers, workshop timetables… all manner of bits and bobs designed to help kids think and touch and make. One of our questions is ‘what sort of collection are you thinking to make?’ and Pat’s desk is covered with widgets, that people mostly just want to touch and pick up, so he explained he wanted to make a Collection using those widgets, to help people learn what all the things are. Brilliant.

Then, we finalised an agreement for a new bunch of 3D scanning and digital model making we’re going to do for a big London museum. We’re going to their store tomorrow to check it out.

Next, our two new team members, Thibaut and Amy, and I went through our sketch of what the Make Your Own kit we’ll be sending to all our pilots consists of, discussed each element, and started to flesh out a content plan for the thing. It’s an interesting line to tread, between instructional, educational, proscriptive, and suggestive. Our pilots are all sorts: primary school classes all the way to world-leading sound artists. Our challenge will be to make a kit that experienced adults can skim for the key elements and that teachers can use to guide and stimulate their students. It’s a first pass representing our own production process so others can use it, with a view to making a kit that anyone can use.

By then we were hungry, so got shish, falafel and noodles and sat in the park, in the warm October sun. (What?)

We had guests coming to tea, so I went to Sainsburys to get some angel cake, Tunnocks caramel wafers, and digestives.

Around 2pm, I joined a Skype call with Sara and Liz in Washington, at the Smithsonian. Our calls, while always focussing on next steps and progress, are always filled with laughter and lots of jokes. It was funny introducing Thibaut and Amy to the style of “business meeting” we’ve had with the Smithsonian folks for almost two years now, every week. They are true partners, and real friends. Schemes continue.

Next I talked to an insurance broker who I’d never met and knew nothing about us, who asked me the sort of new and neutral questions I generally enjoy, probing for the edges of our operation in the hope of describing it adequately for potential providers. It turns out we’ve built a small but international business with a growing network of collaborators and other service providers so that’ll probably be complicated and expensive. Ho hum.

Sara and I had been interviewed the week before by a video press blog in Los Angeles who liked what Museum in a Box is and was going to make an article about us. I wrote to them to ask how it was going, and they told me the video piece was already online. I watched it, and so have 116,000 other people by now. WTF. Great! (That explains the influx of hello emails we got on Monday from teachers in the USA who would all like boxes please.)

Then our afternoon guests arrived, Lucia and Martin, both part of our pilot. It’s lovely that we can meet the London pilots in person, and, over cake, we followed more or less the same script we asked Pat about in the morning. The three stories are each so different, but all united by our simple thing. It’s fascinating how each person has taken the idea and is running with it.

What is a Museum? How might this change it? How could this create a new way to enjoy sound? Could this encourage new collaborations within our museum? Is a Box better than the laptops we have in our Learning Centre? What if the kids pull it apart? We visit museums 2–3 times a year and the kids have to pay a bit of money for that. Wouldn’t it be great to get a sponsor to help with the pilot?

It’s such a thrill to be engaging with our pilots like this. Having thought and dreamt about Museum in a Box in relative isolation for a while now, this user research and conversations we’re having are enlightening and exciting, especially for me, because they’re making me see what we’re making from new points of view. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and there’s another 36 or so to go.

Oh, and, got a note from a chap in Singapore who wants to tinker with a Box to make a series of talking artefacts about Sikh Heritage.

The thing is, when you’re trying to make something new, every day is different, and this was a good one.

Wow! And, thank you

Well, our first crowdfunding campaign is over, and, it was a success! The campaign was shaped around kickstarting our co-design pilot for a new version of Museum in a Box called Make Your Own

Now that we’ve been building bespoke commissions for institutions like Smithsonian Libraries, British Museum, and the V&A, our technology concept is proven. Our hardware design for the Box is now at Version 1, and the software platform we’ve developed to configure Collections and Boxes works. So, the Make Your Own product can build on these resources, and we can send kits out that connect the Box, some NFC stickers, instructions on how to make a great Collection, and the software platform. While we intend to continue making commissions for people, we want Make Your Own to be our path to scaling Museum in a Box, letting a thousand museums bloom in classrooms, libraries, museums and homes around the world. 

map of our pilot groups
This is a map showing where all our Make Your Own kits are headed. Every continent except Antarctica!

Back in June, we enlisted 40 different groups around the world to participate in the pilot, and we’re so excited that we can now order all the hardware we’ll need to build those 40 Boxes, and reach out to all 40 groups personally to crack on with user research about their environments and how they’ve been thinking about Museum in a Box. Here is a list of all the participants: a great mix of teachers, libraries, parents, museums, and even a farm!

So, we must take a moment to thank all our Crowdfunder supporters. We simply couldn’t have kicked off this ambitious pilot without this injection of capital, so thank you. You’ve really made a huge difference to our capacity to bring this thing to life!

Our Supporters

Naomi Alderman, Cristóbal Álvarez, Nicky Birch, Alex Blood, Julie Bottrell, Stewart Butterfield, Sara Rouse Cardello, Daniel Catt, Daniel Cohen, Rachel Coldicutt, Blaine Cook, Henry Cooke, Eric Costello, russell davies, Taryn Davies, Katie Day, Martin Devereux, Molly Ditmore, Imwen Eke, Joanna Ellis, Rebekah Ford, Anne and Forbes Fowlie, Belinda and James Fowlie, David C Frazer, Rachel L Frick, Katharine Handel, Claire Hansford, Chris Heathcote, James Jefferies, Courtney Johnston, D Jones, Greta Lake, Claire Lanyon, Mai Le, Annette Mees, Fiona Miller, Evelyn Neufeld, Nick O’Leary, Margaret and Jeff Oates, Daniel Pett, Jacqueline Pease, Jennifer Phillips-Bacher, Anna Pickard, Kim Plowright, Annelynn Pyck, Clare Reddington, Jo Roach, Frankie Roberto, Cassie Robinson, Sophie Sampson, Dinah Sanders, Nick Stanhope, Jo Stichbury, ben terrett, Jennifer Tharp, Ben Vershbow, Matt Webb, Gill Wildman, Simon Wistow… and several folks who wish to remain anonymous. You shall forever be enshrined on our About Us page.

On a personal note, even though I’ve had a ton of fun developing this business over the last three years or so, and I think we’re heading in a great direction, it’s also been bloody hardand it’s been so lovely to have friends and family support and endorse what I’m trying to do here. Really, it’s such a boost. Thank you.

(And, if you’d still like to support us, please do! The Crowdfunder page has now switched to “always on” mode, so you’re very welcome to make a donation there at any time.)

New Commission: Smithsonian Libraries!

It’s a sign of a crazy last few months that I haven’t been able to write properly about our biggest project yet. At the end of April, Charlie, Adrian and I went to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver 11 Boxes to  Smithsonian Libraries.

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This commission is huge for us in several ways:

  1. It’s the Smithsonian Institution.
  2. It’s the first time we’ve been commissioned to deliver more than one Box.
  3. It’s the first time we’ve been able to bring in folks from the creative industries to join the crew  specifically, two writers, three actors, and a big fancy-lookin’ recording studio. This allows us to demonstrate our content creation capacity (so if a museum wants to commission this service from us, we can show them great work).
  4. The deployment is being formally evaluated (and that’s already really interesting).

This is the first of a couple of posts I’d like to write about this commission, one other perhaps about how we’ve also been able to level up in our Making Boxes skillz.

Background

Back in 2016, Martin Kalfatovic was in London to celebrate the 10th birthday of the magnificent Biodiversity Heritage Library project, and I asked if he’d like to pop by our office to say hi and see what we were up to with this weird little box thing. He came, he liked it, he paused for a second, and then said “What if…” It wasn’t long after that when he introduced us to Sara Cardello, the Education Specialist at Smithsonian Libraries, whose job it is to get Libraries’ content into the hands of kids.

It wasn’t long after that when Sara and Martin asked us to make a Box for them to show to their Board, to get the idea across and pique their interest. We made what remains one of my favourite Collections to date, Frogs in a Box. It’s a favourite because of the name, frankly, but also because it does a very simple thing well: it blends the collections of two different parts of the Smithsonian into one place. There are photographs of North American frogs from a book published in the early 20th Century combined with Sounds of North American Frogs, an incredibly detailed and rigorous audio commentary in Smithsonian Folkways by a American herpetologist called Charles who, as I understand it, basically spent the 1950s travelling across American recording frog songs.

We decided to go for it, and trial the idea on a smallish scale. Small scale for Smithsonian, large scale for us! Sara – who has proved to be Herculean and brilliant – spent the next 18 months looking for a way to fund developing more boxes to support the development and distribution of the SI Libraries UNSTACKED programme. And then, success! She secured support from two different funding bodies: the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, and the Youth Access Grant supported by the Gates Foundation. And then, wow! We were ready to go. Incredible.

Here are the project specs:

  • 11 Boxes
  • 2 Collections for each Box
  • 7 schools and 2 “discovery spaces” across the USA
  • 40 postcards and 4x 3D prints in each Collection

Collections

We planned to create two new Collections for the project, and each one shared the same structure of four main themes + 40 postcards + four 3D prints, but the content was very different.

Stories of Migration from the Asia-Pacific to America

Following the stories of four characters in the form of letters to and from their families. Ben from China, Hong from Vietnam, Abraham from Bikini Atoll, and Rhea from New York (with family from Trinidad & Tobago and India). Sprinkled with facts about rules and regulations for migrants new to the USA, and hints of cultural expression from home countries, this set is an emotive and personal look at what it would have been like to make the big journey in search of something better.

Here’s one of the stories from Ben:

Crew

Curation & Writing: Louise To
Actor: Suni La
Sound Recording: Offset Audio
Sound Post-Production: Charlie Cattel-Killick
Director: George Oates

History of STEM from the Dibner Collection

Four sets of cards aligned with the STEM categories: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, this set tells various stories of the history of STEM through imagery in some important scientific texts from The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology mixed with first-person accounts and other dramatisations of scientific subjects.

What might it be like to actually be a Black Hole?

Crew

Curation: Liz Laribee
Writer: Tom Bowtell
Actors: Becky Wright, Hemi Yeroham
Sound Recording: Offset Audio
Sound Post-Production: Charlie Cattel-Killick
Director: George Oates

Now what?

I’ll plan to write a bit more about the design, production, delivery and evaluation of this commission – it was a big step for us in terms of our production capacity. In the meantime, here’s a quote from one of the kids we met in DC:

“This is actually my first time enjoying a museum” from Museum in a Box on Vimeo.

Our First Upgrade!

The Jewish Museum London (JML) commissioned a Box from us last year, about remembering Jewish people who served in WWI and WWII.

They got in touch with us again this year to see about doing an upgrade of their Box – our first upgrade!

Since we delivered the initial commission, the Box’s core design has seen some important changes, and in fact, we declared V1.0 of the physical design back in February this year. We’ve also been gradually improving the software that runs the core Box interactions, so this was a good chance to upgrade the code on the JML Box while we were poking around.

Physical upgrades

  • The plywood ‘skull’ has been simplified with the speaker and power jacks now exposed on the back of the box, along with access to one of the Pi’s USB ports. (We’re not sure what we want to do with that yet. One idea is to incorporate a microphone into the mix.)
  • Most of the previous perforations across the older ‘skull’ have now been filled in, to focus the sound (so it doesn’t just bounce around inside the box), and most importantly,
  • We’ve replaced the old tiny stereo speakers with one beefy new mono one (see below)!

Our beefy new speakers!

So, to do the upgrade, we took back the museum’s old Box, gutted it, reusing  what we could before cutting them a new V1.0 Box in plywood, reconstructing it with the new sound components, and handing it back.

There were two other important aspects of the upgrade: the audio clips and the software. The museum had tested their Box in schools and found the audio was too long. We’ve been evaluating this challenge across all the Collections we’ve made, and developing a much better understanding about audio duration and content types that work really well with young children. Our main conclusion is – perhaps unsurprisingly – if clips are too long people begin to disengage and switch off. Therefore, the museum trimmed some of their lengthier tracks down and we republished them to the Box.

Now, with WiFi!

It’s now possible to configure each Box in situ to get on to a WiFi network, so we made the cheeky addition inside the shiny new packaging – a WiFi card! The card allows the box to connect to a local WiFi network with the assistance of a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The upgrade gave us the opportunity to test the new wifi configuration out in the wild  for the first time as well as update the shortened audio tracks onsite using the museum’s WiFi.  Once the box was online, and after a little troubleshooting had been done, the box automatically pulled down and updated the new audio tracks!

What WiFi means for the future

Upgrading the Jewish Museum London’s box has been a great testbed for us to learn how we can retro-fit and improve upon older boxes as well as provide on-site updates to content without the need for physical intervention from us- this is an exciting development that’s heading towards our long term goal, where we can offer subscriptions to people who have Boxes. Say you like Natural History” and you subscribe, every month (or so), you get a new set of things delivered from museums all over the world, and your Box just knows about the new set of things because we’ve been able to update it in the background.

Huge thanks to the JML crew for inquiring about the upgrade and for being patient while we figured out a method of best practice!

Charlie

Register your interest: Make Your Own Museum in a Box pilot

In case you don’t know, Museum in a Box is a tactile, interactive device you can use to explore museum collections from around the world. You can watch our How It Works video if you haven’t seen it before.

Just about every teacher we meet wants a Make Your Own version of Museum in a Box, and we’re ready to respond to that demand. We’re looking to place Boxes into a creative classroom process, as a project-based learning tool, where students select and print their own objects around any subject or theme, produce audio responses, and connect everything up with NFC stickers and our software.

Make Your Own will help kids learn skills like curation, collaboration, critical thinking, writing, audio production, digitisation, information & media literacy, and maybe even 3D printing.

We’re also looking for small cultural organisations to try it, and hopefully an artist or two as well. It’s not just for a classroom setting, and we’d like to see if it’s useful for small museum outreach too.

So, we’re like to ask you if you’d be interested to participate in our Make Your Own pilot programme, which we’d like to run in the first six months of 2019. You can be anywhere in the world!

The rough schedule looks like this:

  • End of 2018: recruit participants, design initial materials, prep software, gather hardware stock
  • Jan-Mar 2019: conduct baseline evaluation, build hardware/boxes, send out Kits
  • Apr-Jun 2019: continue evaluation, design iteration as needed, conduct short term completion evaluation, determine scaling requirements

Our target is to work with 20 schools or smaller cultural organisations in the pilot, but, if this registration of interest process shows a lot more demand, we’ll see what we can do about expanding that ambition!

What we’ll provide, at no charge:

  • One free Make Your Own starter kit (contains a Box, 20 NFC stickers, our software platform)
  • An iterative set of progressive curriculum outlines that can be adapted to your students’ age
  • Lesson plan suggestions to facilitate producing materials for the box (objects and content)
  • Good cheer!

What we expect from you:

  • A willingness to Really Try The Thing with us
  • Availability for either in-person or online interviews
  • Creative and critical feedback about what’s working and how you could make it better
  • A certain amount of classroom time with your student (or organisation time with your crew) to think about making a great Museum in a Box
  • Possible public feedback and/or video interview and/or guest blog posts and things like that

What you’ll get:

  • Excitement and gratitude!
  • Credit where credit is due, as early adopter, innovative cultural capital builders
  • A network of like-minded cultural/educational professionals

So… if you’re interested, do please let us know using this simple Google form!