Chapter: ‘The contributions of family and local historians to British history online’

Participatory Heritage, edited by Henriette Roued-Cunliffe and Andrea Copeland, has just been published by Facet.

My chapter is ‘The contributions of family and local historians to British history online‘. My abstract:

Community history projects across Britain have collected and created images, indexes and transcriptions of historical documents ranging from newspaper articles and photographs, to wills and biographical records. Based on analysis of community- and institutionally-led participatory history sites, and interviews with family and local historians, this chapter discusses common models for projects in which community historians cooperated to create digital resources. For decades, family and local historians have organised or contributed to projects to collect, digitise and publish historical sources about British history. What drives amateur historians to voluntarily spend their time digitising cultural heritage? How do they cooperatively or collaboratively create resources? And what challenges do they face?

Mia Ridge is a Digital Curator in the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team. She has a PhD in digital humanities (2015, Department of History, Open University) entitled Making Digital History: the impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research. Previously, she conducted human-computer interaction-based research on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage.


Article ‘Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design’

Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design with Don Lafreniere and Scott Nesbit for the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, based on our work at the Summer 2012 NEH Advanced Institute on Spatial Narrative and Deep Maps: Explorations in the Spatial Humanities.

Ridge, Mia; Lafreniere, Don and Nesbit, Scott (2013). Creating deep maps and spatial narratives through design. International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 7(1-2) pp. 176–189.

Abstract: An interdisciplinary team of researchers were challenged to create a model of a deep map during a three-day charette at the NEH Institute on Spatial Narratives and Deep Maps. Through a reflexive process of ingesting data, probing for fruitful research questions, and considering how a deep map might be used by different audiences, we created a wireframe model of a deep map and explored how it related to spatial narratives. We explored the tension between interfaces for exploratory and structured views of data and sources, and devised a model for the intersections between spatial narratives and deep maps. The process of creating wireframes and prototype screens—and more importantly, the discussions and debates they initiated—helped us understand the complex requirements for deep maps and showed how a deep map can support a humanistic interpretation of the role of space in historical processes.

Article: ‘From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing’

Peer-reviewed article ‘From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing’ published in Curator journal

Ridge, Mia (2013). From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing. Curator: The Museum Journal, 56(4) pp. 435–450.

Proof copy available at

Abstract: Crowdsourcing, or “obtaining information or services by soliciting input from a large number of people,” is becoming known for the impressive productivity of projects that ask the public to help transcribe, describe, locate, or categorize cultural heritage resources. This essay argues that crowdsourcing projects can also be a powerful platform for audience engagement with museums, offering truly deep and valuable connection with cultural heritage through online collaboration around shared goals or resources. It includes examples of well-designed crowdsourcing projects that provide platforms for deepening involvement with citizen history and citizen science; useful definitions of “engagement”; and evidence for why some activities help audiences interact with heritage and scientific material. It discusses projects with committed participants and considers the role of communities of participants in engaging participants more deeply.

The article was based on my keynote: ‘The gift that gives twice: crowdsourcing as productive engagement with cultural heritage’ for ‘The Shape of Things: New and emerging technology-enabled models of participation through VGC’ at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester.

If you found this post useful, you might be interested in my book, Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage.

Paper: Where next for open cultural data in museums?

My latest article for Museum Identity magazine, Where next for open cultural data in museums?, is now live online and in the current print issue of Museum-iD 13.

Site abstract: “Museums have increasingly been joining the global movement for open data by opening up their databases, sharing their images and releasing their knowledge. Mia Ridge presents a brief history of open cultural data projects, explores some reasons why some data is relatively under-used and looks to the future of open cultural data”.

Panel, paper: Current issues in Digital Humanities

On October I was on a panel on the Digital Humanities at the Open University – my talk notes are blogged at Notes on current issues in Digital Humanities.

I co-authored a paper titled ‘Colloquium: Digital Technologies: Help or Hindrance for the Humanities?’ (with Elton Barker, Chris Bissell, Lorna Hardwick, Allan Jones and John Wolffe), published in the ‘Digital Futures Special Issue Arts and Humanities in HE’ edition of Arts and Humanities in Higher Education.

Chapter ‘Crowdsourcing games: playing with museums’

The book ‘Museums At Play: Games, Interaction and Learning‘ is edited by freelance strategist Katy Beale and published by MuseumsEtc.  My chapter, ‘Crowdsourcing games: playing with museums’ discusses the power of crowdsourcing games and the participation economy, possible new relationships with audiences and new types of engagement with objects, and the potential for an ecosystem of museum games based around collections.

Paper: Playing with Difficult Objects – Game Designs to Improve Museum Collections

My paper for Museums and the Web 2011, Playing with Difficult Objects – Game Designs to Improve Museum Collections, is online and is also available in the printed proceedings.

Abstract: Crowdsourcing the creation, correction or enhancement of data about objects through games is an attractive proposition for museums looking to maximize use of their collections online without committing intensive curatorial resources to enhancing catalogue records. This paper investigates the optimum game designs to encourage participation and the generation of useful data through a case study of the project Museum Metadata Games that successfully designed games that created improved metadata for ‘difficult’ objects from two science and history museum collections.

Keywords: collections, games, crowdsourcing, objects, metadata, tagging

Forthcoming chapter ‘All change please: your museum and audiences online’

A quick post because I’m excited to see the book come together: ‘Museums Forward: social media, broadcasting and the web‘ is edited by Gregory Chamberlain and will be published in March 2011.  My chapter is called ‘All change please: your museum and audiences online’.

From the blurb: “In this new ground-breaking book leading innovators from both sides of the Atlantic explore how museums can create an effective social media strategy to engage with new and existing audiences.”

Paper: Learning lessons from a decade of museum websites

The article ‘Learning lessons from a decade of museum websites’ was published in Issue 3 of Museum Identity magazine. The web version as originally posted is archived at Learning lessons from a decade of museum websites; I’ve posted the full text below for reference.

Abstract: “Mia Ridge, Lead Web Developer at the Science Museum, on learning the lessons from a decade of museum websites and the opportunity to look at the organisational changes museums might face as both the expectations of their audiences and their own working practices have been influenced by their interactions online”.

Cite as: Ridge, Mia. “Learning Lessons from a Decade of Museum Websites.” Museum Identity, September 2009.

Learning lessons from a decade of museum websites

Mia Ridge, Lead Web Developer at the Science Museum, on learning the lessons from a decade of museum websites and the opportunity to look at the organisational changes museums might face as both the expectations of their audiences and their own working practices have been influenced by their interactions online

Museum-iD Social Media Seminar











The following article is based on a paper Mia gave at the Museum-iD seminar ‘Museum as Media Company: Social Media, Broadcasting & The Web’.

Image: Speakers at the seminar – from left: Matthew Cock, Head of Web, British Museum; Adrian Arthur, Head of Web Services, British Library; Mia Ridge, Senior Web Developer, Science Museum; Patricia Wheatley, Head of Broadcasting, British Museum; Clize Izard, Head of Creative Services, British Library; John Stack, Head of Tate Online (also speaking at the event but not pictured Peer Lawther, Senior Online Marketing Executive, NMSI)

2009 may be remembered as the year when various financial crises gave us time and cause to stop and reflect on the successes and failures of the past decade or so of museums on the web.  This reflection is aided by the maturity of the web as a technical platform – models are now available for most common applications of cultural heritage online, and a substantial body of experience with digitisation and web projects exists within the cultural heritage sector.  It also offers an opportunity to pose some questions about the organisational changes museums might face as both the expectations of our audiences and our own working practices have been influenced by our interactions online.

This article provides a brief overview of questions I think can be useful when selecting online tools.  Some of them may also confront assumptions about the extent to which online projects challenge existing museum practice, and about the demands successful projects can make on existing infrastructure and staff.  I also suggest simple, cost-effective methods for taking advantage of in-house expertise, perhaps born from previous online projects or grounded in audience contact, to give your projects the best chance for success.

Choosing the right tool for the task has never been more important.   Not only is your online presence no longer neatly contained within your own website, but the web has changed our audiences and their expectations about interactivity and how content is experienced and consumed – the ability to mash-up, reference and re-mix content is almost taken for granted as part of the online experience.

Your online brand is not just about what happens under your own URL.  According to Nielsen Online, “The ten most heavily used web brands account for 45% of total UK internet time”. Facebook alone accounts for “one in every eight minutes” of all UK Internet time.  This means every other site is “fighting for the remaining 55 percent of time Britons spend online”.  In this context, doesn’t it make sense to take your content to your audience instead of expecting them to come to you?

Based on my experience and on that of other museum technologists, I’ve listed some sample questions about your audiences, content and organisational goals related to the project.  The answers to these questions will begin to reveal the types of interactions your audiences could have with your content, with each other and with the museum itself.  In turn, focussing on those social and functional interactions you wish to support will determine the website and interaction metaphors suitable for your project.

Further questions tailored to your specific idea might come from a review of past digitisation projects and exhibitions, from talking to front of house, education and marketing staff who are already in close contact with your possible audiences, from an analysis of similar websites, or from your own experience of social media and websites.

Audience: where do they already congregate online?  How will they discover your content?   What physical or digital metaphors are they already familiar with?  Should the project integrate with their possible physical experience of the museum or exhibition?  Are they experts or novices?  How will they negotiate issues of authority and trust?  How will they engage with your content?  Can they contribute to your own knowledge of the subject or collection?   If audiences are to create or share content, is it specialist material, reminiscence, a simple “I like it/I’ve got one of those”, a creative response or a challenge?   Will their questions require a researched response or a simple acknowledgement?

Project: is this definitely a web project?  What does your organisation want to get out of this?  How does this particular mode of access relate to your overall mission?  What resources are available during the content development and technical implementation phases?  Can you provide resources on an on-going basis to allow for iterative development or post-launch fixes?  Is funding time-limited, or does the project require core resources for long-term success?  What’s your appetite or capacity for risk?  How will you recognise success?  How would you alleviate failure?  How well do your metrics match those set by the project funders or sponsors?  Can you measure a positive engagement or merely register a site visit?  How will content and functionality be archived?  How sustainable is the infrastructure?  What’s your ‘exit strategy’ to allow for the failure of commercial or public partners?  Which existing standards and technologies can you use?  How can you enable re-use of the museum- or user-generated content, both in terms of clear usage rights and programmatically re-usable data?  Can you re-use existing data produced by other organisations, or partner with others in the same field or aiming at the same audiences?  Can you publicly reflect on the lessons you’ll learn during this project, and usefully share both successes and failures?  How open are you to learning from your audience?

Content: what will draw audiences to your website, out of all the other sites on the internet? What types of content – how much interpretation, what media, which sources?  What is your content modelled on – wall captions, learning objectives, live tours, traditional museum models or something drawn from more general models – books, television, film, social media, debates?  Who creates the content – the organisation, the audience?  Should the site provide for collaboration or comment?  How much room is there for audiences to make their own meaning?  Can audiences augment or edit museum content?  How much authority can the museum share with audiences while remaining a trustworthy resource?  Can content be re-used and integrated with the rest of your online content?  How much context and knowledge is assumed about the topic, theory or object?

The decisions about technical tools and infrastructure are only as good as your ability to understand the technological and social contexts your audiences already inhabit.  I don’t want to suggest that museums should never push the boundaries or ask audiences to learn new forms of interaction, but I believe that resource-intensive projects should never be lead by the desire to experiment with a new technology if there isn’t also a demonstrable existing or potential audience need.

One particular challenge for museum projects is that it is futile to focus on specific technological implementations too early in the specification design process, because the social and technological platform is still subject to evolutionary change before project delivery.  Robust infrastructures, interoperable standards and a separation of presentation and application logic can help build ‘future resistant’ (if not ‘future proof’) projects.  Ideally, project leaders should be encouraged to pitch the overall goal to funders or sponsors rather than having to specify the implementation method years in advance of launch.  While online interaction metaphors, interface designs and audience expectations may change over the 3 to 5 year life cycle of a typical museum project, designing metrics that offer both flexibility and accountability provides the best chance of acceptance and uptake by the target audience and overall project success.

Each web platform or metaphor will have particular associations and expectations about the types of content and interactions it supports and the levels of on-going moderation or responsiveness required, though these may vary according to sections of the audience.  However, as new websites and social media interactions and metaphors rise and fall through the Hype Cycle , the characteristics of each become clear and they can be assessed in the light of your requirements.

Some of the questions above may seem rather daunting, but by involving staff from a range of disciplines in the project’s earliest scoping stages, you gain a greater variety of perspectives and make available a wider range of possible solutions.  Inviting others to participate in the initial stages of project design and taking advantage of the innovation and expertise in your organisation is a good way to discover reusable resources, bring to light any internal duplications or conflicts, and to ‘reality check’ your idea against organisational mission and operational reality.  For example, most museums contain people who spend their days talking to audiences and watching them interact with exhibits and interpretative content – observations that can help bridge the gap between the physical and online audience experience.  Similarly, museum technologists are not merely passive conduits in the online publication process but often have skills, expertise and experience that can profoundly shape the delivery of services.

If you need to understand emerging technologies, ‘mash-up days’  are among the lightweight, inexpensive but potentially high-impact ways to enable staff to research and experiment with new platforms while engaging in cross-departmental collaboration.  Cross-specialism workshops, ‘unconferences’ , social media communication tools and even traditional meetings are a great way to create space for innovation while benefiting from years of institutional knowledge and bridging the disconnect that sometimes exists between departments.  Integrating social and participatory (or ‘Web 2.0’) applications for collaboration and consultation into organisational practice can  improve the chances of success for web projects by allowing staff to become as familiar as their audiences with the potential of these tools.

Our audiences have fundamentally changed as a result of their interactions online – shouldn’t the same be true of our organisations?

Mia Ridge, Lead Web Developer, Science Museum.

This article was originally based on a paper Mia gave at the Museum-iD seminar on “Museum as Media Company: Social Media, Broadcasting & The Web” about ‘the role of the web at the Science Museum’.