Title:Physical Keys to Digital Memories: Reflecting on the Role of Tangible Artefacts in ‘Reminisce’
Authors:Luigina Ciolfi, Marc McLoughlin
Publication:MW2011: Museums and the Web 2011

This paper will discuss the role that tangible artefacts in the context of an interactive multi-device installation have as mediators between the physical visitor experience of an open-air museum and the layer of digital information that is available to them about the site. We will refer to the case study of an installation -"Reminisce"- that we have designed for an Irish open-air museum, Bunratty Folk Park, where participants could follow trails around the site on the footsteps of characters from Ireland's past. At different historic houses, visitors could collect "tokens" related to the characters both in digital and physical form: audio recordings of personal memories downloaded to a smart phone application, and physical tokens representing aspects of the characters' lives (such as traditional recipes, chunks of turf, hanks of wool, etc). The physical tokens had a double purpose: that of providing visitors with a physical "anchoring" to the houses and a tangible representation of their progress along the trail; and that of acting as "keys" to unlocking further digital content at a specific site. Concealed RFID tags were included in the tokens to enable this functionality. In the paper we will describe the installation in more detail and, by means of examples from the body of data documenting the visitors' experience of "Reminisce", we will discuss in detail the role that the tangible artefacts had in bridging the "digital" and "physical" spaces of the installation, as well as extracting some recommendations for designing installations in the setting of living history sites.