Experienceing the Digital Humanities: Visiting the Walters 17th c. Chamber of Wonders Online


Joaneath Spicer, Walters Art Museum, USA

Art museums are good at developing digital assets, but the exciting promise of the “digital humanities” is in the intellectual manipulation of such assets: the aggregation of scholarship, image and insight for the greatest benefit. We can improve at taking the lead in moving beyond the temporary exhibition and standard collection catalogue as vehicles for sharing scholarly research to explore the real potential of the “digital humanities.”
The Walters Art Museum’s “17th c. Chamber of Wonders,” a carefully thought-through contextual installation, has become not only the most popular space in the museum since opening in 2005, but used by specialists in many disciplines, often far away, for teaching history of collecting, of art, or of science. But at present we don’t give them much help with this. To address this interest and to activate the extensive research behind this installation and the fascinating theme of the Early Modern “chamber of wonders” in general–for the ten-year-old researching armadillos as well as the art historian in Oregon or the museum visitor in Baltimore–I am working with colleagues to develop a version that is visitable online, based on immersive, 360 degree photography. Web visitors would either request “tours” or click through choices of themes, cases, or objects to a world of interconnected downloadable images, commentary, information, and bibliography. It could start small and expand.

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