Out of the Vaults and into Your Hands

I have an idea for a project that I have been batting around for a few years, but so far have lacked the funding or institutional support to move forward with any great speed.  The concept is simple:  I would like to digitally reverse the diaspora of objects from museum vaults back to their original site of creation of use.

I would like to create an app that asserts the primacy of place in object-based learning.  Basically, I would like to be able to walk down the street and have my phone tell me what museums have saved stuff from the site.  In my ideal vision, the app would draw from all types of museums, so you could see artifacts from art museums or history museums, small museums or national institutions.  Perhaps I should settle for a working prototype of a few objects/repositories.

I have been working with a group of graduate students to develop an online exhibit based on the textile industry in Columbia, SC.  We are tracing the history of Olympia Mills, which was a grand structure when it was constructed in 1899.  (It is listed on the National Registry.)  The mill closed in 1996.  It has since been converted to apartments.

The National Museum of American History happens to have the original architectural drawings for the mill, as part of the Lockwood Greene collection.  I would like to georectify these drawings with the current interior design of the building, so that the apartment dwellers could visualize the history the space.  For example, show that their bed sits where a loom once was.  Then link to a stereoview from the South Caroliniana Library that shows a row of looms.

But right now this is mostly a dream, and I think I need to do some more groundwork in order to secure funding.  I am going to set a personal goal of trying to conduct some front-end evaluation of Olympia Mills residents before our working group convenes at NCPH.

Here are some initial thoughts for questions:

  • Did you know that the Smithsonian has the original drawings for Olympia Mills?
  • Why do you think the Smithsonian saved them?
  • What do you know about the history of this site?
  • Would you like to know what your apartment looked like when this building was a functioning mill?

What other types of questions do you think I should ask in a front-end evaluation?  Can anybody point me to other similar projects/resources?

2 thoughts on “Out of the Vaults and into Your Hands

  1. This is not a thought so much about what to ask, but about eventually securing funding. Would the current owners of the mill (or property management or whatever) be interested in possible helping to fund the project? Sounds like it could be a good part of a selling portfolio for them.

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