“Digital Storytelling” and the Garibaldi Panorama

Wyman et al’s article on the transition from the physical experience of a museum visit into digital version and into the present rise in online exhibits. The centrality of interactivity has become predominant in these exhibits, and the authors identify this recent trend as a double edged sword. On the one hand, the increasingly sophisticated technology available offers tremendous potential in creating an interactive experience that offers new advantages. However, with it also comes the risk of using technology poorly and resulting in a distracting effect on the viewer/user. Ultimately, the design of a digital exhibit requires a harmonization of the content and desired effect of the exhibit and its technological manifestation. Without a singular vision for the exhibit, it is very likely that the viewer will have a confused experience and the prospective benefits of the technological engagement will be wasted.

Toward the end of the article, it offers suggestions on how to construct an online exhibit well to avoid the aforementioned perils of a badly designed exhibit. Some of these suggestions actually advocate for a reduction in technical complexity, arguing that a limited usage of technology that is mastered and executed well is much more effective than an immensely complex exhibit that is poorly constructed. To explore these concepts in a case study, I looked at Brown University’s “The Garibaldi Panorama & the Risorgimento” project. I have previously looked at this exhibit as part of a review of Digital Humanities work on Italian subjects. Now I’m going to analyze it within the parameters of a “good exhibit” based on Wyman et al.

The Home page of the exhibit describes it as a “digital archive” and it focuses on a central primary document:  a panorama of the life of Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Italian unification (Risorgimento).  The panorama was created by a British painter in 1860 and originally exhibited in Great Britain in 1860/1861 as a performance experience, with a script narrated live as the 4.75 foot tall, 260 foot wide panorama, sitting on rollers, progressed to show the story. The digital version of this allows the user to scroll along the full panorama or view it scene-by-scene with a British and Italian narration along with the images from the original manuscript narration. Embedded in the scene breakdown are links to historical sources and related material, allowing the user to engage with its historical themes.

As a digital experience, the project does an excellent job of replicating the 1860 performance style, but also provides the user the chance to progress at their own pace and seek out tangents based on their interest. From a design standpoint, the site is well conceived. There is a problem, however, in terms of its functionality. Many of the scenes have broken links to the Italian narration, and for some neither the English nor the Italian texts work when clicked on. Despite these bugs, the exhibit is a useful presentation of some of the Risorgimento themes and particularly the British conception of Garibaldi and the contemporary events in Italy.

Full Panorama View

Scene-by-Scene

The Digitization Process

Dan is a second Year PhD student at Northeastern. His research has mainly focused on art and politics in Modern Europe, concentrating primarily on Interwar and Fascist Italy.

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