University collections as living archives. Teaching and research in the field of controversy between materiality and mediality

As an ethnographic survey, our research concentrates on the usage of digital object databases. In this context, we especially focus on users, who are guided by a specific question while working with digitized objects. Thus, the study seeks to deepen the understanding of the specificity of digital data and especially the potentials and limitations of digitized objects for professionals in museums and beyond. The decisive factor is hereby that the digitization process enables a new access to individual and museums’ collections, respectively. Currently, the process of digitization is being initiated, revised and expanded by various institutions – consequently, this kind of implementation is increasingly evolving. Therefore, in order to fathom the perspective of the end-user, our survey focuses on the concept of the virtual museum as a place of research in the humanities.

Although the digitization of collections finds itself in a steady progress, the users’ precise approaches as well as their research questions to the virtual objects have hardly been addressed in research to date. The specific objective of our study therefore intents to clarify these researchers’ answers and questions with regard to their database-inquiries. By applying a comparative evaluation of usage characteristics, it is our intention to elaborate miscellaneous procedures of individual users, who are interacting with digital objects.

Questions about the specific application of digital databases are of great relevance and necessary to identify the advantages as well as the specific handicaps, which derive from practice with virtual object databases. Particularly, taking into consideration that the consultation of the physical object could eventually be replaced by the digital version. Thereby, our results could also provide some indications on the aspect of whether new scientific research questions arise by working on digital representations of museums’ items. Consequently, our aim is to examine digital databases and virtual museums, respectively, in connection with the new practices deriving from those institutional coherences.